Each time we return to Frederick Maryland something new catches us by surprise. This time it was the sudden presence of three new craft distilleries within walking distance in the historic center of Frederick. Combined with the craft breweries that have also opened downtown in recent years, you can make a nice day of artisanal beverage tastings.
All three of the new distilleries opened in 2016. That’s not just a coincidence. In December 2014, the Frederick City Board of Aldermen voted for a change in city code to allow for craft distilleries in downtown Frederick. Once that opportunity tap was opened, local distillers jumped at the chance.
During the same time frame in February 2015, eleven Maryland distilleries came together to form the Maryland Distillers Guild to represent and promote the revival of artisanal distilling in the state. Maryland actually has a very interesting history of distilling. I bet you didn’t know that Maryland was the nation’s 3rd largest producer of rye whiskey prior to prohibition.
A common thread throughout our conversations with distillers in Frederick was that of a collaborative community focused on sustainability, use of local products, small batch production and craftsmanship. In 2016 the Frederick Area Distillery Association was formed and the Frederick Distillery Trail was created. The following year saw the introduction of the first annual Frederick Craft Spirits Festival in 2017. This year the festival will be held at the fairgrounds on April 21.
The Homegrown Frederick website is a great resource. The section dedicated to Craft Beverages lists 14 breweries, 13 wineries, and 4 distilleries in Frederick County that you can visit. We began our Frederick Craft Beverage tour at Tenth Ward Distilling Company and worked our way over to the walking path along Carroll Creek.
Tenth Ward Distilling Company
Tenth Ward Distilling Company took their name from their location on East Church Street in what historically was once considered the “Tenth Ward” of Frederick. On the outskirts of the city, it was an area of industry and manufacturing. Owner Monica Pearce and her business partner Kyle Pfalzer opened the distillery in July 2016.
We arrived shortly after they opened at noon on a Thursday and had them all to ourselves. Monica gave us a tour of the distillery while Head Distiller John Wilcox worked on bottling a new batch of whiskey.
They use local ingredients: the grain is grown by Ripon Lodge Farm outside of Charlestown West Virginia; apples for the Apple Jack brandy come from McCutcheons Orchard in Frederick; they make rum from molasses from Domino Sugar in Baltimore.
Monica led us through a tasting of their spirits. Now, I was a little hesitant to start tasting whiskey so early in the day and prepared myself for that initial blow to the palate. But it never came. These whiskeys were smooth and sippable, even before lunch.
You could really taste the ingredients. The mashed caraway seeds in the White Caraway Rye give a nice aftertaste of rye bread. The Claude Countee Corn Whiskey is made from 80% smoked corn that lends it a pleasant smoky character. The nose is similar to a mezcal and therefore they recommend making a Smokey Jalapeno Margarita. See their website for cocktail recipes featuring their spirits.
We were impressed way beyond our expectations with the quality of the spirits at Tenth Ward and suddenly found ourselves excited about the future of these Frederick distilleries.
Tenth Ward Distilling Company
508 East Church Street
Hours: Wed-Sun 12pm – 6pm
Tour and tasting $5
McClintock Distilling Company
McClintock Distilling Company opened officially in December 2016. Cofounders and Head Distillers Braeden Bumpers and Tyler Hegamyer are both Maryland residents that met in college in North Carolina. The distillery is named after McClintock Young, a prominent inventor that lived in Frederick in the 1800’s. The mission of the distillery is “to embody the innovative and creative spirit of McClintock Young” by creating unique small batch spirits using unconventional ingredients.
We were a bit awestruck when we first walked into the distillery. They have beautifully renovated a hundred year old building in an ideal location along Carroll Creek. The 5,000 square foot space holds the distillery and tasting room, and is large enough for events like Cheese and Spirits Pairings and distilling classes.
Zac walked us through a description of their brewing process and explained how that impressive, gleaming 264 gallon copper pot still works. They are Maryland’s first certified USDA Organic Distillery. All of their grains are organic and stone milled in-house (a very rare thing to do). Even the botanicals used in their gin are organic.
Zac then led us through a tasting, describing in detail the background and characteristics of each spirit. We started with the Maryland Heritage White Whiskey that honors the history of rye whiskey in the state. It is a traditional Maryland-style whiskey, heavy on rye and aged in oak barrels for just 24 hours.
The gins were remarkable. The Forager Gin uses a blend of 18 botanicals native to the Appalachian Mountains. It is a light, crisp gin with complex citrus and floral flavors. We compared the flavors at room temperature and chilled with a shake over ice.
When that same gin is barrel aged in used Cognac barrels from the Hennessy distillery, magic happens. A touch of sweetness is stolen from the Hennessy barrels, adding even more complexity to the already sublime gin.
Once again, impressed beyond expectations.
McClintock Distilling Company
35 South Carroll Street
Hours: Thur-Fri 4-8pm, Sat 12-8pm, Sun 12-6pm
Tours and tasting $5
Dragon Distillery was actually Frederick’s first to open in February 2016 and throughout the day we heard great things about their spirits. Dragon is a veteran owned distillery that specializes in small-batch artisanal vodka, whiskey, gin and rum. However, they are only open Friday – Sunday, so we’ll have to save them for next time. It looks like a fun visit on the Dragon Distillery website. The owners are big Dungeons and Dragons fans (hence the name) and the spirits follow along with the medieval theme. They are located outside of the city near the Frederick Airport. It would be a long walk, so taking an Uber might be a good idea.
1341 Hughes Ford Rd #108,
Hours: Fri 4-7pm, Sat 12-6pm, Sun 12-4:30pm
We still had time to fit in one of the new breweries that we had been looking forward to visiting, Attaboy Beer. Husband and wife team Carly and Brian Ogen established Attaboy Beer in 2016 and the tasting room opened its door in January 2017. They are located right next to Carroll Creek, an easy walk from downtown and just a few blocks past McClintock.
They’ve got plenty of space which is a good thing because it looks like they could bring in a crowd. You can look in on the brewing facility through big windows in the taproom, where they serve a constantly changing beer lineup. There were eight beers on tap and tasting notes available on notecards to help you choose.
They produce a wide variety of styles, including light saisons, a Bavarian style hefeweizen, multiple IPA’s and a golden strong ale with 8.7% alcohol. We each did a tasting flight of 3 beers for $6 (basically you can taste any of the beers for $2 each).
They only serve pre-packaged food but allow you to bring in your own. On most days there are food trucks outside. Check their website for the food truck lineup. We were there on grilled-cheese day with the Say Cheese Food Truck. Now that was satisfying and perfect with the beer.
400 Sagner Ave #400
Hours: Wed-Thurs 4-10pm, Fri-Sat 12-10pm, Sunday 12-7pm
Tours:Sat-Sun 12:30 & 1:30