The owners of two distilleries in Carroll County talk about their products, the distilling process and state laws that impact their business. (Jon Kelvey and Max Simpson / Carroll County Times)
On a Tuesday afternoon in late March, Scott Jendrek was in the back corner of the two-story stone building at 7609 Main St. in Sykesville, shining a flashlight into a glass porthole on a tall column of gleaming chrome atop a wood-clad tank of burnished copper. This was a column still, used for separating spirits from mere water, and Jendrek was checking the temperature and watching for condensation.
"Water boils at 212 Fahrenheit and alcohol boils at 165. So you boil off the alcohol, run it through a condenser, re-condense the alcohol vapor and collect the fluid," he said. "And that's booze."
This was the first still run at Jendrek's newly launched Patapsco Distilling Company, and that booze was the very first batch of Blue Find Vodka, which he hopes to have on local store and bar room shelves by mid-April. Later, he hopes to make gin, rum, rye whiskey, bourbon, lemoncello and the bittersweet walnut liquor noccino, all made with Maryland products: The vodka began as 300 pounds of Maryland corn. The rum will be made with molasses and dark brown sugar from Baltimore's Domino Sugar.
"All the grains are from Maryland, which is why the logo is Maryland in a bottle," Jendrek says.
After many years of spirits market dominance by industrial-scale manufacturers, small-scale, craft distilling of the sort Jendrek is pursuing — he can produce only 150 to 200 bottles at a time — is enjoying something of a resurgence, according to Kevin Atticks, executive director of the Maryland Distillers Guild.
"I think it exactly parallels the growth of the wine industry in the '70s, '80s and early '90s, and the beer industry in the '80s into '90s," said Atticks, whose guild includes more than 15 member distilleries.
Two of those members represent the rebirth of distilling in Carroll County: Jendrek's Patapsco Distilling and the first distillery to operate in Carroll County since Prohibition: Mount Airy's MISCellaneous Distillery, which opened its doors in December.
"Being the first distillery in Carroll County since Prohibition has been ... so exciting," said Meg MacWhirter, co-owner of MISCellaneous Distillery, along with Dan McNeill, who offered his own thoughts on the historic nature of their facility and tasting room at 114 S. Main St., in Suite B103.
"We're really proud to be on the cutting edge of this industry, especially bringing rye, and rum, back to Maryland."
MISCellaneous launched with its Risky Rum, an un-aged white spirit, and will soon begin production of its Restless Rye, which will also come — at least initially — un-aged and transparent, rather than in familiar whiskey brown. The molasses from the rum again comes from Domino and the rye will have a special Carroll provenance, according to McNeill.
"It is made with 100 percent Maryland grown grains at our friend's Gravel Springs Farm, just 20 minutes north of here near New Windsor. We then take it up to Union Mills Homestead north of Westminster, an old, 1700s, water-powered, stone-ground mill," he said. "We will have 100 percent rye whiskey made here in the county from very beginning to very end."
That commitment to local sourcing by McNeill and MacWhirter and Jendrek is music to the ears of Atticks.
"We have a lot of distilleries in the state that are in the process of beginning to use these local products, but to have that commitment from the start really is phenomenal," he said.
So too is the historic nature of the spirits they are distilling.
"The rum actually goes back to colonial times when the product came from the Caribbean," Atticks said. "It kind of became the first Maryland distilled spirit."
The legacy of rum in Maryland was later eclipsed by rye, however, which as the name suggests is a whiskey made largely from rye grain — as opposed to, say, bourbon, which has a much higher corn and barley content. Rye became associated with Maryland beginning in the 1800s, Atticks said, and even revived after Prohibition, but not with the same vigor as before.
"It was really in the 1960s and '70s that rye was at its peak, and soon thereafter the brands began to get purchased and moved to more central locations in the Midwest," he said. "The industry all but disappeared in Maryland. It's only in the last 10 years that we have had spirits being produced."
For MacWhirter and McNeill, who just bought a house in Mount Airy, Carroll County is the perfect place to add a new chapter to the history of Maryland distilling.
"Carroll County has been truly welcoming and engaging. We're just really proud to be able to partner with a local farm," MacWhirter said, "and get that support and really bring a hand-crafted product and manufacturing back to this area."
For Jendrek, who lives not far from his new distillery in Sykesville, becoming a part of that history is a dream come true.
"This has been a seven-year paper project. I kept looking for the reason why it didn't work and never found it. My wife finally said, 'Do it,'" he said. "I woke up at 4 a.m. this morning wondering if I was still dreaming. I'm pinching myself at this point."
"Current Maryland state law allows me to offer three, half-ounce samples, and sell three bottles per person per visit," owner Scott Jendrek said. "Currently if I make a gin and you come in, you can sample the gin straight, I can't put it into a mixer. I can't give it to you the way you would enjoy it at home."
That may change as soon as this summer. Maryland House Bill 42, which is currently working its way through the Maryland Senate, would allow distilleries like Patapsco and MISCellaneous to serve their samples with mixers to make two ounce beverages. Not exactly fully drinks as one would get in a bar, but sufficient to understand the full potential of the spirits in a mixed drink milieu.
At MISCellaneous, MacWhirter and McNeill are offering mixers made by Washington. D.C. manufacturer and in a pre-prohibition style, such that their cola is made with real kola nut — though not cocaine. Their grenadine from pomegranates rather than the intensely food colored fructose syrup that decorates super market shelves and junior prom Shirley Temples.
But they have to serve them in separate shot glasses.
"We hope that passes this year or sometime soon so we can highlight the spirits in that way as well," MacWhirter said.