The brothers behind the first commercial distillery in Maryland since the 1970s are preparing to launch their second product next month.
Christopher and Jonathan Cook of Blackwater Distilling will be sourcing the sugars for their newest product, a honey-infused version of their Sloop Betty vodka (the one with a pinup girl’s nearly revealed booty on the bottle) that was first released at the end of 2011.
Sloop Betty is widely available from D.C. retailers, but drinkers are most likely to have tried it at area restaurants, where mixologists are infusing the local beverage. That’s part of the reason Blackwater is bringing honey into the mix for its next offering, making the vodka more approachable—sippable even—to a wider audience.
Blackwater Distilling, located in Stevensville, Md., is the first fully licensed distillery doing business in the state since Pikesville Rye moved to Kentucky 40 years ago. It’s still the only standalone production distillery in Maryland, although others are on the way, and some wineries and breweries dabble in distilling, as well. The Cook brothers’ ultimate goal is to revive not only Maryland distilling but also the local popularity of rye whiskey, which must be aged for at least 18 months.
Still, vodka has proven to be a great place to start.
“Vodka is 26 percent of the market. That’s why we started with vodka,” Jonathan Cook says during a recent tour of the distillery. “But when you have a product on the market for a couple years, that 74 percent of the market that drinks something else definitely seems like a bigger chunk.”
Cook says clear spirits like vodka also come with “virtually no wait” from grain to bottle. The first Sloop Betty, named after a boat that sailed the Chesapeake in the 1700s, is a mix of 80 percent wheat and 20 percent sugar cane, which the distillery filters and bottles in-house.
The Cooks say sourcing ingredients closer to home will be a key for future beverage recipes. The Eastern Shore honey for their next vodka will come from Waxing Kara. And they’ll be sourcing organic wheat for future products from Queen Anne farmer Bill Mason.
“With the organic farmer that we’re going to be working with, it’s a family-owned business that’s been in the family for over 100 years. Businesses like [ours] can help their business stay alive, too,” Jonathan Cook says.
As the brothers work toward beginning the rye whiskey process next year, they plan to release a “classic” moonshine made from local corn and sugar in the process. Thanks to a new Maryland law, Blackwater can also now offer tastes of its products from the distillery and sell as many as three bottles to each visitor. For those who don’t want to cross the Bay Bridge for a taste, the next Sloop Betty is set to appear in D.C. bars by mid-December.
CORRECTION: An initial version of this story stated that the new Sloop Betty vodka will use organic wheat from Queen Anne farmer Bill Mason. In fact, the distillery will use the organic wheat for future spirits, not the honey-infused vodka.
Photo by Whitney Pipkin