"[I]n 1910 there were 44 distilleries operating in Maryland, 21 of which were in downtown Baltimore. It also led them to the discovery that prior to Prohibition Maryland was the third leading distiller of whiskey in the U.S. behind Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and at one point led the nation in rye whiskey production." - DistilleryTrail.com
Founded in 2013, Sagamore Spirit was the brainchild of Kevin
Plank, the then-CEO of Under Armor, and Bill McDermott. They enlisted MGP’s former Master Distiller, Larry
Ebersold, to create a recipe of two rye mashbills he envisioned. As it
turned out, those consisted of a familiar 95% rye/5% malted barley mash and a
52% rye, 43% corn, and 5% malted barley mash.
Sagamore Spirit’s distilling team consisted of Max Hame and Christopher Schultz, working with Ryan Norwood, its director of quality.
One of Sagamore Spirit’s goals is to bring back a resurgence of
Maryland-style rye whiskey. A second part of the plan was to create a
grain-to-glass distillery by building partnerships with local farmers and
purchasing as much Maryland-grown rye as possible. It has been producing its distillate
in a 20,000-square-foot facility and blending 20% of that with 80% sourced MGP
Sagamore Spirit maintains a 120° entry proof; subsequent proofing
is deliberate with everything it makes. It has been sourcing barrels made of
Maryland-grown oak from Independent
Stave Company (ISC).
Recently, I was invited by Whiskey
Mavens to take part in a tasting with Ryan Norwood and Illinois Marketing
Manager Jessica Deans. We tasted
five whiskeys: The Signature, Double Oak, Cask Strength, Rum Cask Finish, and
Sherry Cask Finish. I’ve taken that opportunity to review each one. All five
begin with the Signature as its base whiskey, and I’ve sipped each one neat from
a Glencairn glass.
I thank Whiskey Mavens and Sagamore Spirit for providing me with
these samples with no strings attached. Let’s #DrinkCurious and discover which is the best.
Spirit’s flagship whiskey is bottled at 83° after resting for four to six years
in new, heavy-charred oak. A 750ml package runs about $38.00.
observed a pale gold liquid that formed a medium rim. Slow, sticky tears fell
down the side of my glass.
aroma of nutmeg, vanilla, caramel, and mint escaped, and when I drew that air
into my mouth, I tasted roasted almonds.
Palate: Signature possessed a medium body, and at the
front of my palate, I found flavors of orange peel, dark chocolate, and nutmeg.
Midway through were caramel and honeycomb, while the back featured mint, clove,
Finish: That mint, clove, and oak stuck around for a
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I was surprised this was only 83° because it
drank higher. It was an enjoyable pour and something I’d be happy to have in my
whiskey library, which equals a Bottle
rating on my scale. It was the third-best of the five whiskeys I tasted that
Spirit took its Signature whiskey, then finished it for an additional 18 months
in lightly-charred, medium-toasted oak barrels. The result is a 96.6° whiskey with a suggested
price of $66.00 for a 750ml package.
bronze-colored liquid formed a thin rim. A wide curtain fell but left behind
fat droplets that crawled back to the pool.
Nose: A lovely
punch of caramel struck my nostrils, followed by brown sugar, honey, and
toasted oak. The brown sugar carried through as I inhaled the vapor into my
Oak had an oily texture. The front of my palate came upon caramel, toasted
coconut, and brown sugar, while the middle was nutty with hazelnut, pecan, and
roasted almond. Cinnamon, clove, and oak were on the back.
Finish: The long
finish was spicy with mint and cinnamon. Toasted oak trailed.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Double
Oak was stunning, and I savored it from nose to finish. Of the five I tasted,
it was my favorite. Obviously, this one takes my Bottle rating.
Signature had not been proofed to 83°, Cask Strength would be that whiskey. It
aged between four and seven years and weighs in at 112.2°. You can expect to
pay about $72.00 for a 750ml bottle.
gold presented as more traditional than the Signature. A medium rim formed
sticky droplets that clung to the side of my glass.
Nose: I found
a bouquet of orange zest, caramel, nut, toasted oak, and cinnamon. I tasted
vanilla when I opened my lips to draw the air in.
Palate: The mouthfeel
was oily. On the front of my palate, I discerned mint and caramel, while dark
chocolate and almond were in the middle. Oak and cinnamon spice was on the
heat that remained challenged me to find flavors. It did reveal cinnamon-soaked
toothpicks, ones that have aged perhaps as long as this whiskey. It was the
only thing I could pick out, and it ran for a medium duration.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I drink cask-strength whiskey all the time. I
felt something was lacking with this version of the Rye. Aside from being too
hot, there were fewer flavors to discern than the Signature. I think there are
better cask-strength Ryes available at this price that I’d rather drink, and
when you take that final component, this hovers somewhere between a Bar and Bust. It was also my least favorite of the five.
Rum Cask Finish
Spirit has a Reserve Series that allows the distillers to get more
creative. In the case of Rum Cask Finish, Jamaican and Columbian rum casks were
acquired, although there was no disclosure as to whose rum was in these before
the whiskey. Rum Cask Finish is bottled at 98°, and the suggested price was about
deep amber had an inviting presence. A thin rim released slow tears.
coconut, brown sugar, vanilla, and oak teased my olfactory sense while caramel
and mint rolled across my tongue as I breathed in the vapor.
Palate: A silky
texture led to molasses, caramel, and nutmeg on the front. Chocolate, almond,
and coconut formed the middle, bringing banana, black pepper, and oak on the
Finish: A long,
building, and complex finish consisting of molasses, chocolate, almond, black
pepper, and oak, and then, out of nowhere, I tasted coffee.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Sagamore
Spirit Rum Cask Finish was my group runner-up. Aside from that unexpected
ending, the combination of sweet and spicy was nearly perfect. The asking price
won’t disappoint, and I’m happy to convey my Bottle rating for it.
Sherry Cask Finish
final of the five is another selection from the Reserve Series. This time,
Sagamore Spirit took the Signature and finished it in hand-selected 132-gallon Pedro Ximénez (PX)
sherry butts for 18 months. This release commands a $79.00 price for a 750ml
bottle and is just hitting store shelves.
Appearance: The Rye
absorbed color from the PX cask and provided more of a deep orange amber. A
medium-thin rim generated slow, sticky legs.
fruity bouquet of raisin, fig, and plum married nuts and caramel. A taste of
raisin rolled across my tongue when I breathed inward.
mouthfeel was thin and oily, while I was introduced to rye spice, dark chocolate,
and raisin flavors on the front of my palate. The middle offered mint, vanilla,
and walnuts; then, I experienced cinnamon, almond, and oak on the back.
medium-length finish had components of raisin, dark chocolate, nuts, and oak.
Bottle, Bar, or Bust: I lust
over PX-sherry cask-finished whiskeys. Strangely, this Rye had to compete with
the Signature for third place, and the only reason Signature trumped it was the
price. I need to make it clear that Sherry Cask Finish is good. The top four
were all tasty; some were just better than others. Sherry Cask Finish earns its
Bottle rating from me regardless of
where it is placed. Cheers!
My Simple, Easy-to-Understand
- Bottle = Buy It
- Bar = Try It
- Bust = Leave It
you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.