What is Maryland Rye Whiskey?

So Much More Than A Mashbill

We wanted to take a minute to address one of the most asked questions we get at the distillery; what is Maryland Rye? A large part of why we started our distillery was to explore and develop the incredible heritage and history of distilling here in our wonderful state as native Marylanders we love to parse what it is that makes Maryland Rye so special. This is part science, part history and part philosophy so I hope you will bear with us while we take a deep dive into Maryland Rye Whiskey.

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We have been interviewed by several magazines, newspapers, bloggers and aficionados about Maryland-Style Rye whiskey and it inevitably ends up devolving into percentages and mash bills. The overarching theory on what separated Maryland-Rye from Pennsylvania Monongahela Rye is fairly straightforward, Pennsylvania Rye is typically made from 100% rye mash bill, whereas Maryland Rye is likely finished with something else (barley, wheat, corn or some combination thereof). There is no “prototypical”Maryland mash bill beyond that. There is evidence of barley finishes around Baltimore, corn finishes on the shore and wheat finishes in Western Maryland. Even within a single town, multiple distilleries very likely used completely different mash bills based on how they started and what was currently available (look at Burkittsville as a great example).

However, part of what we preach here at McClintock is that looking at mash bills alone is just scratching the surface of what a whiskey is. If you look at whiskey as a finished product, the grain mixture is simply the building blocks for the complexity, depth, aroma and all around wonderful chemical components that make whiskey such a special spirit. Not to discount the importance of choosing grains. You can’t manipulate or enhance components that are not there, but looking at a whiskey as an amalgamation of 75% rye and 25% barley you will never get the whole picture.

We argue, rather, that by looking at Rye as Rye you are missing out on what made Maryland whiskey special. There are hundreds of varietals of wheat, rye and corn and even if you are growing the same varietals under different soil, water and light conditions you are going to have a natural variance in composition. We believe that a large part of the legacy, history and taste of Maryland Rye comes directly from the varietals that people were growing here and the environmental conditions on which they were being grown. After all, the reason we became a hotbed of Rye whiskey in the first place hundreds of years ago was because early settlers couldn’t grow barley for traditional European whiskys so they substituted in a native rye that grew great in our clay-heavy rocky soil.

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We have put painstaking effort into recreating a “traditional” Maryland-Style Rye whiskey by using these heritage grains and using historical milling techniques with our Stone Burr Mill to keep the temperature of the grain cool to preserve the beautiful complexities of the grain intact. Processing plays just a big a role in the flavor development of the whiskey. If you are using high-friction mills and material handling methods you burn off all of the light and aromatic flavors that our forefathers did such a great job preserving.

The final component of what our amazing home-state can provide that nothing else can is our barrel resting conditions. Distilling icon Hubert Germain-Robin once said that “The aging process obeys the cycle of life, and it is influenced by the changes of the season, the moon, the environment, and all natural and local conditions.” Everything from the flora in the air, the humidity, to the temperature of the rickhouse plays a drastic role in the flavor extraction of the beautiful wood components in the whiskey, and nowhere else in the world has the conditions we have here in Maryland.

Put this all together and you have a perfect storm of Rye Whiskey. There are so many examples of amazing Maryland Rye Whiskey being produced now in the Free State and we are proud to be a part of the movement to restore the beautiful heritage and history of Distilling Maryland Rye Whiskey.




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