Craft rum distiller opens in St. Michaels

A new rum distillery, which says it is the only one in the state to craft its liquor from raw ingredients, has launched in St. Michaels.

Lyon Distilling Company, co-founded by a 31-year-old former Wall Street currency trader and his photographer partner, is the second, new small-scale distillery to open in decades in Maryland, once home to a robust local spirits trade.

An official grand opening is still in the works, but since opening doors in December, the business has already sold out of its stock seven times, said distiller Ben Lyon, who described running his own operation as a "dream."

"I'm making it as fast as I can … It's been pretty wild," said Lyon, who grew up in Hanover, N.H., and worked at Cisco Brewers in Nantucket after college. "I obviously really love beer, wine, spirits, but two, there's just a tremendous satisfaction in that tangible result at the end of the day."

Lyon moved to St. Michaels with partner Jaime Windon, 33, almost two years ago, starting the zoning process for the distillery in Oct. 2012 and taking over a roughly 5,000-square-foot building on South Talbot Street in Jan. 2013. The company received a federal license in July, state license in November and approval of the label just before Thanksgiving, Lyon said.

The couple put about $100,000 of their own money into the venture, with the goal of maintaining control over the process, including the nitty gritty of liquor-making, Lyon said. They craft rum from a mix of molasses and cane sugar, producing about 100, 750-ml bottles a week.

"The important thing is just the authenticity of making it here, going through every little step, that process," Lyon said. "We didn't want to take on any outside investors or debt. For us the important thing is maintaining control over the whole process."

Visitors to the tasting room and production plant can buy up to three bottles, which sell for between $33 and $99. The company also plans to introduce other spirits.

The number of craft distilleries is growing across the country, and Lyon said he expects at least three other operators to open in Maryland in the next few years.

According to the state comptroller's office, five distilleries already hold licenses in Maryland, including vodka-seller Blackwater Distilling, which was the state's first new license in almost four decades when it won approval in 2011.

"We don't really view them as competitors," Lyon said of the new operations, noting that big names still dominate the market. "There really is room for everybody."

An official grand opening date has not been set, but the business opened its doors in early December.

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