Distilling Craft Liquor Makes a Local Comeback
It’s no secret that Frederick County has become a destination for beer and wine, even cider. No matter what you like to drink, you’re sure to find it at one of a myriad of locations in the county.
But what if your tastes run to the harder stuff? Until recently, you were out of luck if you wanted some locally produced liquor. But recently there’s been a boon for spirits in Frederick, with Dragon Distillery (1341 Hughes Ford Road, Suite 108), McClintock Distilling (35 S. Carroll St.) and Tenth Ward Distilling Co. (508 E. Church St.) preparing to open. And more is on the way, with MISCellaneous Distillery in Mount Air planning a spring opening and Frederick Distilling Company expected to follow this summer. “I think it’s awesome that we’re going to have more than one distillery,” says Mark Lambert, founder of Dragon Distillery. “We’re all going to be doing different things—it makes Frederick a destination.”
The local distilleries, along with Patapsco Distilling Company in Sykesville, are seeking to capitalize on the growing movement with the creation of the Frederick Distillery Trail and the Frederick Area Distillery Association to both lure customers to their businesses and tourists to the region. “Frederick County has a deeply rooted history in distilling spirits that dates back to before the Revolutionary War,” says John Fieseler, executive director of Visit Frederick. “But we are very excited about our emerging new distilleries. They are a perfect complement to our other craft beverage makers who are a growing attraction for visitors to the county.”
The liquor movement in Frederick can be at least partially attributed to shifting attitudes toward making spirits by local government during the last few years, with the first changes coming via the Frederick City Board of Aldermen, which first allowed distilling in certain parts of the city in 2013. Most recently, a 2014 change allowed the distilleries to open Downtown.
While all three distilleries have plans for making aged liquors, they’ll be focusing on more quickly produced liquors, like gin and vodka.
Monica Pearce, a co-owner of Tenth Ward Distilling, says the craft spirits industry is in the infancy stages, but it can learn a lot from their counterparts in craft beer. “The craft distilling industry is following in the footsteps of the craft brewing industry,” Pearce says. “It’s important to us too to build that local support in case the craft spirit thing is a fad; we’re starting small.”
Unlike craft brewing, though, the barrier to entry is a bit more challenging for spirits, as it’s still illegal to distill at home. While many professional brewers started as home brewers and can apply their knowledge, craft distillers don’t have the same luxury. “It is kind of weird that there is no home distilling, so there’s no real way to do it by yourself until you have your permitting and tanks installed,” says Braeden Bumpers, who co-owns of McClintock Distilling with Tyler Hegamyer.
To gain the experience, Bumpers and Hegamyer have spent time with other distilleries to learn the ropes. They’ve worked with Chicago’s KOVAL Distillery, but still won’t know exactly how their products will come out until trying the recipes in their distillery. “We’ve been working closely with KOVAL … to go through some of our mash bills, so we’ll have a pretty good idea of what our product will taste like, but slight differences in air temperature and bacteria in the air can make a difference,” Bumpers says.
While all three distilleries have plans for making aged liquors, they’ll be focusing on more quickly produced liquors, like gin or vodka.
The flagship product at Tenth Ward will be applejack, an apple-based brandy with a long history in America. Classically, it was created using freeze distillation, where water was removed from cider to increase the alcohol content. “We won’t be freeze
distilling but we will be fermenting McCutcheon’s cider and aging that in bourbon barrels,” Pearce says.
Tenth Ward will also have a bootlegger series, based on famous Frederick bootleggers, among a few other products about which Pearce wasn’t quite ready to share details.
Bumpers says that McClintock will be opening with gin and an un-aged version of whiskey, which they’ll also be aging at their location. “Our gin is called Forager Gin, inspired by a lot of botanicals we experimented with in the Appalachians,” Bumpers says. “The white whiskey will be an un-aged version of our whiskeys that we’ll be aging out; rye and bourbon will be aging on site. They’ll probably be ready in two or three years, but we will not pull them until they’re ready.”
At Dragon Distillery, the opening lineup includes moonshine, vodka, gin and spiced rum, with bourbon and a single-malt whiskey going into barrels to be sold in a year or two, Lambert says.
While Lambert’s spirits are themed around his love of games like Dungeons & Dragons, the moonshine will be named for his great grandfather “Bad” Bill Tutt, who once made his own hooch. “We’re going to be locally sourced, so we’re using a local corn, and for the moonshine, as well,” Lambert says. “We’re doing everything that’s possible to do locally sourced. … For rum, you can’t locally source molasses or sugar, so we’re getting it as close as possible.”
Much like their counterparts in craft brewing, the owners of distilleries cooperate, trading notes and tips to help each other. McClintock and Tenth Ward are members of the Maryland Distilling Guild, made up of distillers around the state. “Almost everybody in Maryland has been incredibly helpful just kind of comparing notes and trying to get this new industry off the ground,” Bumpers says. “Most of us have little to no experience in it.”
Pearce echoed similar sentiments. “We’ve had amazing support from the breweries,” he says. “From purchasing their old equipment to some of them reaching out to see if there’s anything we need, it’s just been awesome.”
Despite not having much experience, the distillery owners are hoping to carve out a niche in the market—offering customers a chance to drink locally sourced, locally created spirits that reflect the community. “We can do just what the craft beer industry did—we can make unique spirits, we can tell a story, we can have pride, we can source locally and we can provide a customer with a more organic grain-to-glass experience,” Lambert says. “I think that’s what customers are looking for.”