Distilling Sagamore Spirit
“Soon, bold rye whiskey became synonymous with Maryland”
A Bit About Our Rye Whiskey…
We are proud to call Baltimore our home and since April 2017, have been distilling and aging our proprietary straight rye whiskey here in Maryland at our distillery on Baltimore’s waterfront. It takes 4 years to get to the perfect taste so stay tuned!
Knowing how long it takes to build a distillery, in 2013 we asked our friends in Indiana to distill two different mash bills for us. They make great whiskies out there and we couldn’t be prouder of the product. Once the whiskey is aged, our barrels are shipped to our Maryland distillery where our distilling team blends and proofs the whiskey with Sagamore Farm spring water, before hand-bottling and labeling each one.
But what is Maryland-style rye whiskey?
Maryland farmers used rye as a cover crop in the early 1800’s. Its fibrous and sturdy root system helped maintain soil health and protected the land from erosion. Farmers soon realized it also made for a pretty great whiskey. After the spring harvest, rye grains were distilled into alcohol – a far more profitable – and delicious! – product than selling the grain solo. Soon, bold Rye Whiskey became synonymous with Maryland. At Sagamore Spirit, we take this grain seriously. Rye grains are delivered weekly, and reviewed meticulously by our distillers. Each batch is checked for consistency in smell, flavor, and feel before heading into one of our grain silos. The other ingredients in our mash, corn and malted barley, are subject to no less stringent reviews. The exploding flavor of the rye grains made Maryland Rye Whiskey famous and we are committed to upholding that tradition.
“…harnessing the spirit of Sagamore in every sip.”
When we founded Sagamore Spirit, we wanted to craft unique whiskies, while paying homage to the great Maryland distillers before us. Historically, Maryland Rye Whiskey was smoother than its counterparts in Pennsylvania and Kentucky, gathering creamy tastes and textures from the calcium rich waters of Maryland limestone. To create our signature spirit at Sagamore, we cook, ferment, and distill two different mash bills. The first is high in rye, with malted barley. The ratio of these ingredients produce flavors such as baking spices and fruit. The second mash bill is lower in rye, allowing corn and malted barely to play a larger role. This yields smoother and sweeter notes to the distilled spirit. After distilling and aging these two mash bills separately, we blend them together to create our own proprietary recipe. It’s bold, yet balanced, harnessing the Spirit of Sagamore and Maryland-Style Rye in every sip.
“…each batch of cooked mash reaches a perfect flavor consistency”
The first step to create our proprietary recipe is the mash cook. Rye is one of the most difficult grains to cook. Unlike corn and barley, rye is made up of additional starches. This increases the viscosity, or thickness, of the cooking mash. At Sagamore Spirit, our distillers spend time on each individual cook to understand the nuances of the grain and often add enzymes to propel the starch breakdown process. Instead of using a machine, our distillers rely on their experience and intellect to ensure each batch of cooked mash reaches a perfect flavor consistency.
“Our distillers monitor the fermentation process constantly”
Nine 6,500 gallon fermentation tanks stand two stories tall in our distillation building. Once the mash cook is complete, we cool and transfer the mash to these tanks. Then, we pitch the yeast. The yeast converts the fermentable sugars in our mash into heat, CO2, and alcohol in a process that produces a fascinating top layer of bubbles that makes it look like the mash is boiling. Our distillers monitor the fermentation process constantly, running cool water through pipes around the fermentation tanks to maintain target temperatures. Fermentation is the primary source of flavor development in distillate, and temperature plays a huge role in yeast’s ability to create flavor. The fermentation process approximately three days. Once complete, it’s referred to as a Distillers Beer and is made up of approximately 8% alcohol.
“our 40-foot-mirrored finished copper column still is the star of the show”
Our 40-foot-mirrored finished copper column still is the star of the show, turning our Distillers Beer into a clear, flavorful spirit. We add the beer to the top of still, simultaneously heating the bottom with steam, 40-feet below. As the beer runs down 19 copper plates, alcohol is vaporized out of the liquid by the hot steam. A combination of heat and pressure sends the vapor into vertical condenser, which cools the vapor into a liquid. This liquid is called Low Wine and reaches 120 to 125 proof. The grains and water that fall to the bottom of the still are known as stillage. Stillage is collected and given to local farmers. At Sagamore Spirit, we distill our spirit twice more through two copper doublers. The first doubler heats and vaporizes the low wine, and the condenser cools it down into a liquid. Now, our spirit is called a High Wine. The third and final distillation in the second copper doubler and condenser, turns the spirit into a Higher Wine. Some call this New Make or White Dog. We call it White Rye. It’s now ready to be barreled and aged.
“we use a level three char on our barrels”
As an American Straight Rye Whiskey, we use each barrel only once. Staves are cut from American White Oak trees, seasoned for six to 18-months, and then hooped and charred by a Cooper to release the toasted sugars and caramel notes of the wood. At Sagamore Spirit, we use a level three to four char on most of our barrels. At the cooperage, barrels are held over open flames for 30 seconds. We receive freshly charred barrels weekly, and add our triple distilled spirit – or White Rye – to each 53 gallon barrel. Then, we send it off to the Aging Barn and wait…and wait….and wait.
“aging whiskey is a time-honored tradition of patience and purpose”
Aging whiskey is a time honored tradition of patience and purpose – which is why we let our barrels age for over four years. Our aging barns are not climate controlled – and that’s how we like it. Fluctuating Maryland temperatures encourage the spirit to move in and out of the charred wood, picking up flavors of caramel, vanilla, and baking spices. Remember, we’ve fermented and distilled two different recipes – a high rye and a low rye. During the aging process, they still remain separate, allowing each barrel to create its own bouquet of flavor. During the four year process, our distillers visit the barrels to monitor the quality and taste of the spirit. They use a Whiskey Thief to extract a small sample from the bung hole of the barrel, examining the nuances in the aroma and color of each spirit. The placement of the barrels in the barn will influence the taste of the whiskey. Barrels stored on the top levels age quicker because of greater temperature fluctuation. Our distillers account for this when blending the whiskey, to create a consistent and delicious final product.
“our unique water is the soul of our rye whiskey”
In Gaelic, whiskey means “water of life.” And at Sagamore Spirit, our unique water is the soul of our Rye Whiskey. Our water flows from a Spring House, built in 1909, at Sagamore Farm. Fed from a limestone aquifer, this water is pure and naturally filtered; a crisp, cool, calcium-rich liquid that is perfect for making whiskey. The spring remains at 52 degrees all year long and Maryland farmers chilled their milk bottles in the bubbling pool during hot summers. This water is so essential to our rye whiskey, we drive it 22 miles from the farm to our distillery in Baltimore. This spring-fed water imparts a smoothness to our Signature 83-proof spirit, and a subtle creaminess in our Cask Strength Rye. Collecting the water from the farm and driving it to the distillery is not an efficient process. In fact, some encouraged us to ditch the whole idea. But our unique water is the essence of our spirit. It is bold. It is faithful. It is steady. We wouldn’t have it any other way.
“every bottle of sagamore spirit rye whiskey is crafted with care”
The bottling line is the final step in our whiskey making process. We fill a single tote with proofed whiskey and then our expert Production Team kicks off the first bottle fill. Our custom six-head filler pours whiskey into each bottle, automatically stopping when the whiskey reaches precisely 750 milliliters. Each of the six bottles are corked and then examined by a teammate for clarity, color, and finish. Once receiving our signature patterned shrink capsule, the bottles run through a heat shrink tunnel, then on to the labeler. Our six-sided bottle of Sagamore Rye requires a custom labeler. The Production Team feeds a single roll of labels into our personalized machine and then hand flips each bottle to stamp a front and back label. Then, the team applies each individual hand-signed batch label, noting the batch number, bottle number, and labeler. Every bottle touches no less than eight hands before being cleaned one last time and then sent out for enjoyment. Every teammate at Sagamore Spirit spends time on the bottling line, learning the intricacies of the process and the importance of quality control. Rest assured, every bottle of Sagamore Spirit Rye Whiskey is crafted with care, attention to detail, and the Spirit of Sagamore.