(Photo by Stephen Babcock)
Whiskey came pouring forth from an oak barrel at City Garage on Wednesday. It’ll be a few more weeks (May 13, to be precise) before it will be flowing into glasses at local bars, but the team behind Sagamore Spirit aimed to show that they’re ready to start putting the rye out into the world.
It’s been a long time coming.
“We started filling the first barrels in 2012,” said Sagamore Spirit President Brian Treacy. Looking laid back with a soul patch, he’s a fitting face for a Kevin Plank-backed company that has to rely on patience instead of speed.
Until a new distillery in Port Covington is complete, the City Garage space will be the temporary home of the operations that take the rye from the barrel to the bottle.
The device that takes the whiskey out of the bottle is called a barrel trough. A big drill punctures the barrel, and the machine flips it over. Then the whiskey flows out through a small hole.
It leaves some remnants behind, which doubles as evidence that the barrel was charred prior to being filled. Without that char, the whiskey would be clear liquid.
From there, the proof is cut with spring water that is trucked in every few days from Plank’s Sagamore farm in Baltimore County.
“For us to drive 22 miles one way to grab spring water is something I don’t see anyone else doing,” Treacy said. That cuts the proof down to 83, so named after the interstate that flows through the middle of Baltimore. He also said Sagamore takes a different approach than most by blending two mash bills.
To finish off production, it’s bottled, labelled and packed in cases. People have to man each of these steps. Treacy said a bottle will retail for about $40.
The idea behind the product is to put Maryland back on the map for rye, which was once a booming industry in the state (think Pikesville Rye). Along with the distillery that’s meant to attract visitors, they see the product as smooth and sippable, or easily combined in a cocktail. The early batch indicates that’s what they’ve produced.
As it goes out in limited supply in a few weeks, drinkers will have a chance to decide for themselves. Details on exactly where it will be available are based on the distributor’s plans, but we can assume it will be the drink of choice at Kevin Plank’s Preakness party.