The company has applied to trademark the Triple Rye product name and expects to settle on a location in the coming weeks, said Brian Treacy, Sagamore Spirit's general manager. Initially planned for the site of Plank's Sagamore Farm, a 530-acre horse farm in Glyndon, the plant could be located in the city instead, he said.
"We're looking at all options. Most likely it will not be the farm," said Treacy, declining to elaborate about the change.
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Maryland, once home to the nation's fifth-largest distilling industry, was famous for its rye, a whiskey now enjoying something of a renaissance. Rye is made mostly from rye grain, while bourbon is made mostly from corn and tends to be sweeter.
The liquor fell out of favor after World War II, but the revival of cocktail culture has primed the alcohol for a comeback, said Frank Coleman, spokesman for the spokesman for the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
"Rye is making a huge comeback, there's no question about it," Coleman said. "You've had all these bartenders really rediscover classic cocktails and many classic cocktails are made with rye whiskey because that was the whiskey of the time."
State laws also have changed, prompting the emergence of new craft brewers and distillers. The comptroller's office said in February there were five operators with distilling licenses in Maryland, including vodka producer Blackwater Distilling and rum maker Lyon Distilling, which opened in St. Michaels in December and recently launched a rye. Maryland's craft beer business also has been growing rapidly.
Plank, who founded the global sports apparel company Under Armour in Baltimore, announced his plans to produce rye whiskey in 2012 and spoke to The Baltimore Sun last year about cinnamon flavors in an early batch.
Sagamore aims to open a manufacturing facility that is accessible for tourist visits in 2016, Treacy said.
"We want to have the best of both worlds," Treacy said. "When it's all said and done, this will be a world-class distillery that people definitely want to visit."
Sagamore is in the middle of discussions with public officials about the plant and has not yet applied for liquor licenses, he said, adding that he expects more details to emerge in the next two months.
"We're certainly not trying to be mysterious," he said. "Just right now, it's really tough to talk about, not having everything just perfect yet."
City officials said Jon Laria, a Ballard Spahr attorney, recently approached the Planning Department for a pre-development meeting about locating a distillery at 301 E. Cromwell St. in Port Covington. Planning Director Tom Stosur said the meeting has not been scheduled and the department does not have detailed information about the plans.
Treacy declined to discuss specific possible locations.
The property owner is a limited liability company, 301 East Cromwell Street LLC, which purchased the site for $2 million at a foreclosure auction in 2012. State land records and environmental documents show the LLC shares a Chevy Chase address with the limited liability companies that spent $35 million in January to acquire a nearby 59-acre group of properties, including the site of the half-finished shopping center that houses a Walmart.
Marc Weller is listed as a point person on state documents for the owner of those properties, as well as 101 W. Dickman Street, a 6.7 acre site just across Hanover Street. He did not respond to a request for comment.
Laria did not respond to a request for comment.
The properties fall within the bounds of the casino-area master plan and are zoned currently for manufacturing, Deputy Planning Director Laurie Feinberg said. The city's proposed new zoning code maintains the site for industrial use. The land is not part of the maritime industrial overlay district, enacted in 2004 to preserve space for port-related use, though it does have two long finger piers.
A Middle Branch master plan, adopted by the Planning Commission in 2007, identified 301 E. Cromwell St. and adjacent parcels as a possible site for mixed-use development. Former Cromwell Street owner Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse in 2008 presented conceptual plans for the area that envisioned thousands of residences, a waterfront promenade and a 400-slip marina.
Stosur said proposals for the Cromwell Street property would be considered in the context of broader plans for the area.
Some want to see the Port Covington land developed as part of the port of Baltimore.
"I would hate to think that that valuable waterfront land is going to be a distillery, because a distillery can go anywhere," said Helen Delich Bentley, a former congresswoman and Federal Maritime Commission chair.
District 10 City Councilman Ed Reisinger said he is aware of the distillery plans and wants to make sure the land gets developed in a way that maximizes its potential.
"There's still some concerns about that area, that site. The question is, what's the best use," he said.