As “Hot Vax Summer” moves into full swing, don’t just spend all your time at the beach and inhaling crab. Hit up these distilleries-on-the-bay that will ensure your next trip to Southern Maryland and the Eastern Shore has all the delicious local hootch you could hope for.
Tobacco Barn Distillery – Hollywood, MD
On the west side of the Bay – and not far from the southern shores of the Patuxent River – we find ourselves at Tobacco Barn Distillery.
Founded by three partners – Dan Dawson, Sean Coogan, and Scott Sanders – who’ve known each other for over 25 years, Tobacco Barn was born out of a desire to bring bourbon distilling back to St. Mary’s County.
“Basil Hayden, a well-known bourbon distiller, was born here in the mid-1700s,” said Sanders.
The choice to bring bourbon to Hollywood was easy, according to the partners.
Dawson had the third license to distill corn into ethanol during the 1979 fuel crisis. Sanders was a Navy Admiral who handed out bourbon as a gift during his time leading the International Counter Piracy campaign off of Somalia. And Coogan? Well, Coogan is a stickler for government details and could navigate the complexities of federal regulation.
“We are one of America’s few ‘single farm’ bourbon distilleries,” Sanders said. “All the corn for our bourbon and whiskeys are grown on-site, and we do everything here – cooking, mashing, distilling, aging, and bottling.”
Tobacco Barn boasts a “high-rye” bourbon – 25% of the mash bill is made up of the grain, which lends bright black-pepper spice to whiskies.
“It is a throwback to early southern Maryland distillers such as Basil Hayden, Wathen, Willett, J.W. Dant, and Mattingly,” Sanders said. “We use traditional distilling methods, do not chill filter, open fermentation and have a beautiful ancient aquifer of pure water (7.2 pH) deep beneath our farm.”
If you’d like to take a step back to experience where some of the biggest names in modern bourbon got their start, Tobacco Barn offers tastings on Saturdays and Sundays, as well as one Rickhouse Tour on Saturday. Both are available by reservation on their website. Keep your eyes glued to their website, as different events can pop up throughout the week.
Tastings get you a pour of all their products – straight bourbon, straight rye, ship-aged rum, honey rum, and cinnamon whiskey. The tours begin in the rickhouse and include an in-depth exploration of the bourbon production process.
And “tobacco farm” isn’t just a clever name.
“We also have a great farmscape view and porch where you can sit and sip if you like,” said Sanders. “We’re a former tobacco farm, so cigar smoking is permitted (and encouraged) while sipping Bourbon on our porch!”
BlueDyer Distilling Company – Waldorf, MD
Head north just shy of 30 miles, and you’ll find yourself at the doors of BlueDyer Distilling Company, owned by Ryan Vierheller.
“‘BlueDyer’ was my grandfather and great grandfather’s bootlegging nomme de guerre,” Vierheller said. “They were active moonshining in Stafford County, Virginia during the first several decades of the 1900s.”
The two chose the name “BlueDyer,” as it was the nickname of the family’s first relative to arrive in America.
In 1730, William Weyerman was residing in Adams County, PA, and used the moniker “BlueDyer” in the majority of his written correspondence to business associates, friends, and family and even scribed the nickname after his Christian name in his own handwritten will.
Fast forward to the modern era. After a full career in local law enforcement, Vierheller decided to found the distillery named for his family nickname that 7 of 11 generations of men had used while making distilled spirits.
BlueDyer strives to produce classic spirits in the tradition of handmade artisanship, as well as to promote and encourage the growth of the craft spirit and craft cocktail movements. They have a full line of moderately priced, handmade spirits namely: Vodka, gin, barrel gin, gold rum, dark rum, bourbon mash whiskey, port barrel finished whiskey, and their newest addition – rye whiskey produced in the old Maryland style.
Just don’t ask Vierheller to pick his favorite.
“It would really be impossible to say that one spirit is better than the others,” he said. “We put equal time, attention, and love into the production of the whole line. While we did not intend in the beginning to produce at such a range, the addition of the cocktail service to Maryland State Law for distilleries included a provision that all spirits served in the cocktail program be produced on site by the distillery.”
BlueDyer currently offers tours, tastings, and cocktail service Tuesday through Friday from 5 to 10 p.m. and Saturday and Sunday from 2 – 10 p.m. and are following all state and local guidelines for COVID safety.
“We continue to build our program by recruiting and promoting top local talent and maintaining a family-style workplace environment that our equity owners could not be more proud of,” Vierheller added. “Our tours are conducted by distillers who are able to answer any question from the general to specific, and we strive to provide a top-quality guest experience to everyone who visits us.”
Windon Distilling Company (LYON Rum) – St. Michaels, MD
Take a quick 10-minute walk from St. Michaels’ waterfront and you’ll find Windon Distilling Company (distillers of Lyon Rum.) What began as a desire to “simply do something that no one else was doing” has evolved into a mission to inspire interest and appreciation for American rum.
“We love rum, and are committed to honoring the traditions and styles of this global and cultural spirit while creating our very own unique expressions,” said Windon Distilling Company Founder and CEO, Jaime Windon.
Windon describes LYON Rum as a line of “robust, intensely flavorful, all-natural rums and rum liqueurs that truly change the way people approach and enjoy cane spirits.”
Over the past eight years, Windon and the team have been experimenting with flavors, infusions, and in general finding ways to expand their flavor expressions while holding true to their cane-to-glass ethos.
“However, our signature LYON Dark Rum will always be what we are known for,” she said. “A rich, versatile rum that is as enjoyable on the rocks or neat in a glass as it is with ginger beer or in a tropical punch: it’s truly a rum for all occasions.”
Unfortunately, as of this writing, Windon’s distillery remains closed to the public as they work to renovate and re-imagine their visitor experience in light of everything the team has learned and all that’s changed over the last year.
That doesn’t mean you can’t swing by and pick up a bottle – and maybe some conversation.
“We are on-site producing spirits every day and offer bottle sales for takeaway,” Windon said. “We also have curated flight boxes with collections of 50ml bottles – plus we love to engage in spirited conversations [about spirits] at our outside tent.”
And while the rums are quite excellent, Windon stressed that her team is what made the distillery really shine.
“We are passionate about excellent hospitality and educational experiences,” she said. “And we love sharing what we do with visitors. Although we are in a transition after seven years of tours and tastings seven days a week, we look forward to delighting rum lovers – and rum skeptics – in the future with in-depth tastings, private tours, and cocktail classes.”
Other distilleries to check out in Southern Maryland:
- Southern Trail Distillery – Mechanicsville, MD
Lead Photo: Tobacco Barn
About the Author
Mark A. Vierthaler is the Head Distiller at Whiskey Del Bac in Tucson, Arizona. He's also a former Marylander who left a part of his heart in the Old Line State. He has won over a dozen international awards for spirits he has made and was a finalist for the inaugural Icons of Gin from the UK-based Gin Magazine. He lives in Tucson with his wife Jenn, silver lab Moose, tabby cat Rump Roast and the occasional javelina & coatimundi that wanders into their backyard. He also makes a point to take in as much craft as possible when he travels back to Maryland. Follow his cooking, mixology and distilling misadventures @WhiskyIcarus on Instagram.