Ask a native son to write a love letter to Maryland and among her many virtues, Old Bay will surely be extolled.
We local folk are fiercely prideful about the quirky bits of living in our state that encompass the saying, "It's just a Maryland thing." We relish the exclusivity of a select few oddities that make our state great. At the same time, we love introducing outsiders to our traditions and lifestyles. On the short list of items that makes a person feel home here in the Old Line State, Old Bay gives most us the greatest warm and fuzzies.
Old Bay has a sense memory all its own. Like a song that transports you to a specific moment in your life, Old Bay transports us to a hearty bushel of steamed crabs down the shore, or to a table with friends over at Captain James, mallets and a pitcher of Natty Boh at your side. Or you're at summertime dinners when you can dump the seasoning on every food group, from corn to ice cream and anything in between.
It is a ubiquitous fragrance, the taste on the tip of every Marylander's tongue.
So imagine my extreme delight when Philadelphia Distilling recently dropped some of its brotherly love all along the Eastern seaboard, unveiling their tribute to our Mid-Atlantic culture with The Bay, a savory infusion of "traditional spices" (read: Old Bay-esque; read: similar to but not exactly the McCormick product) and sea salt in a quadruple distilled vodka. Yes, I know — be still your heart. You can finally shoot, sip, and slather yourself in Old Bay-ish Vodka at home or at local bars, such as Bad Decisions or Looney's.
The Bay is the brainchild of Andrew Auwerda, Cecil County resident, University of Maryland alumnus and proprietor of Philadelphia Distilling, a small craft distillery most famous for its Bluecoat Gin. Auwerda wasn't born and bred in Maryland but he has said he quickly realized the importance of the seasoning to the local culture.
Alone, The Bay tastes exactly like what you're hoping for, or as Auwerda and company call it, "a symphony of flavors": It's salty and spicy, with notes of celery seed, pepper, a little cardamom — even a dash of nutmeg. But The Bay really wants to set you up with everything you'd need for a great day by the waterfront: Each bottle comes tagged with their signature cocktail recipe, The Bloody Marylander.
If you're gaga for any Old Bay related novelty, the $26 purchase price for a liter will already be worth it. But if you're like me, you want to be able to slap the ingredient on just about anything and make it taste good.
I've never spent time behind bars, but I do spend a lot of time in front of them. So I felt comfortable playing around with a few recipes at home. Surprisingly, The Bay is pretty versatile, like the seasoning itself. If crabs and football are what Maryland does, this vodka is what Maryland should drink.
Along with The Bay's signature cocktail, here are two of my own spicy recipes to add even more local flavor to your summer fun:
The Bloody Marylander
1 1/2 oz. The Bay Seasoned Vodka
4 oz. tomato juice
1 dash Worcestershire sauce
1/2 oz. lemon juice
1 celery stalk
Add vodka, tomato juice, Worcestershire Sauce, lemon juice. Pour back and forth between two mixing glasses; strain into an ice-filled highball glass. Garnish with celery stalk
2 oz. The Bay Seasoned Vodka
1 oz. pineapple juice
1/2 oz. agave nectar
3/4 oz. lime juice
Garnish: lime wheel
Take vodka, pineapple juice, lime juice, and agave, shake with ice and strain into a chilled martini glass.
Chesapeake Bay Shooter
1 raw oyster
1 oz. The Bay Seasoned Vodka
3/4 oz. fresh celery juice
Garnish: Old Bay seasoning
Rim a shot glass with Old Bay; pour vodka and celery juice over raw oyster, top with fresh squeezed lemon juice.