Kacy and I were invited by Visit Frederick for a fun weekend getaway in historic Frederick, Maryland. We were excited to see what the city had to offer, with the main purpose of touring the local distilleries. Many new distilleries have been popping up all over Maryland, and Frederick has joined the party over the past few years.
We’ve done a distillery tour and tasting in DC before, but had no experience with Maryland spirits. I’ll admit that straight liquor tastings in general can be a bit intimidating – I enjoy the occasional neat whiskey or bourbon on the rocks, but sipping on vodka, gin, and white whiskeys that are traditionally meant to be blended into cocktails was less familiar territory for me.
Undeterred, I knew I could dig into our experience attending many wine tastings to try to pick out a few things about the aromas and tasting notes in each drink.
It was our first time visiting the city, but after our two days we became intimately familiar with what makes the town so great, and became instant fans of Frederick’s distilleries. There are currently four distilleries operating in Frederick County, each with their own distinct vibe.
Tenth Ward Distilling
Our first stop took us to Tenth Ward Distilling, which opened in July of 2016. Tenth Ward is owned and operated by Monica Pearce and Kyle Pfalzer and focuses on “creating off-beat spirits”. The name “Tenth Ward” is a reference to the way that Frederick City was drawn up and divided during the late 19th century. The distillery also plays on the city’s history, with a wall commemorating famous Frederick bootleggers, a cheeky touch that is fitting for the distillery.
The atmosphere of the distillery echoed the personalities of the owners, laid back and light-hearted, with a deep underlying passion for what they do. We started with a tour of the distillery led by Kyle s he explained the distilling process to us step-by-step. An interesting tidbit was that they use natural spring water from nearby Catoctin Mountain to cut the spirits.
- Claude Countee Corn Whiskey – Made using smoked corn, it had a prominent smokiness to it that was reminiscent of a Mezcal.
- White Caraway Rye – Mashed with caraway seeds and made from malted rye, this was one of the most unusual whiskeys I had ever tasted. It had distinct herbal and spice flavors that are made it quite appealing.
- AppleJack – described as “apple brandy for bourbon drinkers” this was a slightly sweeter offering with a bit less burn and more fruitiness to it.
Tenth Ward is still very new to the scene, but we hope to see their spirits in DC soon.
Our next stop was to McClintock Distilling that gets its namesake from McClintock Young, a renowned inventor in the late 1800’s who once called Frederick home.
The distillery was larger than that of Tenth Ward and had a more polished and curated feel to it. Our knowledgeable tour guide, who is also an owner, explained to us how McClintock was the first distillery to be announced, yet the last to open due to the complications that come with renovating a historic building. McClintock is the first organic certified distillery in Maryland, an impressive feat considering all of the steps and ingredients that go into distilling. They bring their grains in full kernel and process it all in-house to ensure this, modeling many of their steps after similar processes seen in bakeries.
McClintock offered a more commonly found line up of spirits for a young distillery: gin, vodka, and a white whiskey. The distilling process that was described for each spirit was painstakingly meticulous – including a lineup of 21 proprietary botanicals used to get the perfect combination of flavors and aromatics. This attention to detail came across in the cleanliness and purity of the spirits we tasted.
- Forager Gin – Our tour guide was a self-proclaimed “gin snob” and was very proud of the Forager Gin. Upon tasting it was easy to see why. The gin was very clean yet complex, leading with citrus and floral notes with hints of juniper.
- Maryland-Heritage White Whiskey – Brown whiskeys take a few years in oak barrels to mellow out and get that darker color. White whiskeys are the result of a not having as much time in he oak and thus doesn’t get the brownish caramel hue to it. This whiskey had a bit of spice to it to accompany the common burn of a white whiskey. It mellowed towards the finish and had a touch of sweetness on the end.
- Epiphany Vodka – A very smooth and clean tasting vodka made from Italian organic wheat. They double distill the vodka and triple filter it to achieve a mellow and subdued finish.
McClintock’s spirits are available at select DC retailers and restaurants.
Springfield Manor Winery & Distillery
The next day we took a short drive out to Springfield Manor Winery & Distillery. The first thing you notice when you drive up to the property is how expansive and beautiful it is. The 130-acre property holds many weddings and other events and even boasts a full bed and breakfast and lavender field.
As wine lovers, we were excited to do a tasting of their wines. They’re currently pouring five reds, three whites and a sparkling rosé. The tasting room for the winery was in the bottom portion of a historic building and was filled with charm. They offered a good variety of wines, although many of them were sweeter than I prefer.
The distillery opened in 2012 and was the first in Frederick County. Not to be over-shadowed by the winery, the distillery tasting boasted a selection of more than a dozen spirits to choose from. They offered a range of brandy, whiskey, rum, and even a grappa.
They were also proud of the fresh, natural water they are able to get on the property. They use it in their spirits and said it should be winning medals on its own for how good it tastes. As a water connoisseur, Kacy agreed, saying the water was delicious.
- Barrel-Aged Apple Brandy – Nice amount of mellowed flavors from the barrel aging. Had a sweet, maltiness to it from the apple but was very smooth for a brandy.
- Maryland Rye Whiskey – A bit of a spicy burn on the front end but softens a bit as there are a few hints of vanilla and caramel on the finish that come from the oak its aged in.
- White Collar Bourbon Whiskey – A smoother whiskey that doesn’t have as much of the spice or burn of the rye. Doesn’t have as much depth to it though and is a bit more one-dimensional.
- Water – fresh, delicious and Kacy-approved.
Springfield’s spirits are only available for purchase on site, but with grounds this beautiful it’s certainly worth the trip.
The last distillery on our tour through Frederick was to Dragon Distillery. Springfield Manor was the first distillery in Frederick County, but Dragon Distillery was the first in Frederick City. The distillery takes full advantage of their namesake, which comes from their affinity with Dungeons & Dragons, being decked out with dragons and medieval imagery all throughout the tasting room.
The owner told us how his family first settled in Frederick in the 1730’s about 25 miles from where the distillery was located, and they have been here ever since. Because of this they take it very seriously to be “hyper-local”, using locally-sourced ingredients in a sustainable and environmentally friendly manner.
They offered a unique set of spirits to taste, including some flavored vodkas and a moonshine named after a family ancestor “Bad” Bill Tutt – a notorious doctor, moonshiner, and gambler. Their bottles are also topped with melted wax for a nice extra touch.
One offering that really grabbed my attention was the Whiskey Workshops they run. With options for a one or two-day workshop, participants are given instruction on the basic principles of the distillation process and even participate in the mash preparation, distillation, filtration, proofing, and bottling. Plus, when it’s over you then go home with you own (mini)barrel of whiskey!
- Clustered Spires Vodka – A tribute to the trademark clustered spires of Frederick, this vodka uses locally sourced corn. It is filtered between 100 and 300 times, resulting in a clean and smooth finish.
- “Bad” Bill Tutt Moonshine – 100 proof moonshine is going to have some bite, but knowing that going in I was surprised to find it on the smoother side. It had a solid, clean flavor to it didn’t linger too long on the palate.
- Fannie Tutt’s Lemon Meringue Moonshine – Named after “Bad” Bill’s wife, Fannie Tutt, it is flavored to taste like her favorite pie – lemon meringue. More of a sipping spirit than Bill’s moonshine, this one had a bit more sweetness to it and a hint of zesty lemon that would be perfect in a lemonade or sweet tea cocktail.
Touring Frederick’s Distilleries – That’s a Wrap
So that wrapped up our distillery tour of Frederick, Maryland. I think we both now have a higher level of respect for the distilling process and the flavors and characteristics that can be found in spirits. I would also say that we both have a higher level of fondness towards the city of Frederick. The charming history was undeniable and the modern additions of new restaurants, breweries, and distilleries ensures that we will be back soon to see what else the city has to offer.
We hope we’ve inspired you to try some of Frederick’s distilleries for yourself. If you’re not a fan of drinking straight spirits, good news – starting July 1st distilleries will have the option to create mini tasting cocktails using their spirits. I can’t wait to see what each distillery creates!
Stay tuned for more posts from Kacy about the rest of our Frederick adventures.
Visit Frederick generously hosted us for the weekend and facilitated our distillery tour. As always, all opinions are honest and 100% genuine.
Please drink responsibly and be sure you have a designated driver for your distillery tour. Cabs and Lyft are also available.