Whiskey maker brings bour­bon back to So. Md.

Tobacco Barn Dis­tillery uses farm’s corn out­put to make ‘old-school’ spir­its

Maryland Independent - - Business - By DAR­WIN WEIGEL dweigel@somd­news.com Twit­ter: @somd_bized­i­tor

Tobacco Barn Dis­tillery is bring­ing bour­bon mak­ing back to St. Mary’s County, its birth­place.

The Hol­ly­wood dis­tillery started up a lit­tle un­der a year ago on a small farm owned by Dan Daw­son, along with part­ners Scott San­ders and Sean Coogan. The first batches of bour­bon are ag­ing in their charred oak bar­rels and will be ready for im­bib­ing in March 2018 — un­less it’s ready be­fore then. “We’re not go­ing to sell it un­less it tastes good,” Daw­son said, adding that a sam­ple af­ter four months was al­ready devel­op­ing good fla­vor.

While the bulk is put up in 30-gal­lon bar­rels, along with a rye whiskey that is ex­pected to ma­ture in Oc­to­ber 2018, the trio has put up a few five-gal­lon bar­rels to test out faster ag­ing. Daw­son said the smaller bar­rels should de­velop fla­vor quicker to give them an idea of what to ex­pect from the larger bar­rels.

The first batches were cooked up in a 100-gal­lon still, but a 300-gal­lon unit was in the throws of in­stal­la­tion ear­lier this month. The larger still, work­ing in se­ries with the smaller one, will al­low a peak pro­duc­tion of 600 to 800 bot­tles a week in the fu­ture, if de­mand calls for that. Both stills use elec­tric heat­ing, and a so­lar ar­ray on the farm helps off­set some of the power used. The en­tire sys­tem — in­clud­ing the use of ex­cess heat for pre­heat­ing and keep­ing the dis­tillery build­ing warm — is de­signed to be as en­vi­ron­men­tally-friendly as pos­si­ble, Daw­son said.

“We started this to be a bour­bon dis­tillery,” he said. “It’s about bring­ing the old-school bour­bon back to Mary­land. The birth­place of bour­bon whiskey is St. Mary’s County, not Ken­tucky. The old grand­dad him­self, Basil Hay­den, was born in St. Mary’s down in Ridge. He ac­tu­ally em­i­grated to Ken­tucky from St. Mary’s.”

San­ders said the rye­and corn-based spirit wasn’t aged back in the early St. Mary’s days, but be­came the norm in Ken­tucky decades af­ter Hay­den moved there, when it ac­quired the bour­bon la­bel.

“Our mash bill has a sig­nif­i­cant amount of rye be­cause that’s the tra­di­tional way of mak­ing whiskey,” Daw­son said. “In fact, if you fol­low Basil Hay­den, and the prod­ucts and dis­til­leries that grew from that, they tend to be ‘rye-for­ward,’ as op­posed to ‘wheat-for­ward.’ A Maker’s Mark is more wheat in the mash bill. Old Grand-Dad, for ex­am­ple, is a rye-based bour­bon. It gives it a lit­tle spici­ness.”

He said they are cur­rently us­ing a bit over a three-to-one corn over rye mix­ture for the sour mash for the bour­bon and the ex­act op­po­site for the rye whiskey. The corn is com­ing off Daw­son’s farm and the rye is be­ing brought in. Both are be­ing milled at Stauffer Feed Mill in Leonard­town.

“Mary­land at one time was maybe the sec­ond largest pro­ducer of rye whiskey, af­ter Penn­syl­va­nia,” Daw­son said. “Rye was a su­per pop­u­lar whiskey. Now it’s com­ing back and it’s hard to keep rye in stock.”

In the in­ter­est of get­ting some prod­uct on the mar­ket to be­gin get­ting the dis­tillery’s name out in the pub­lic, Tobacco Barn has pro­duced sev­eral rums — aged in for­mer bour­bon bar­rels bought from other dis­til­leries — and an un­aged, fla­vored whiskey called “Moll Dyer,” named af­ter the pur­ported St. Mary’s witch.

Moll Dyer is their bour­bon spirit in un­aged form with the ad­di­tion of cin­na­mon and blue agave nec­tar. It’s not some­thing they orig­i­nally in­tended to make but did un­der ad­vice of their wives.

“We sell more of this than any­thing,” San­ders said. “And our wives laugh at us and say, ‘See, we told you so.’”

“If you mix this with straw­berry, it makes the most in­cred­i­ble straw­berry daiquiri,” Daw­son added.

They’re mak­ing a honey rum with a lo­cal honey and have a cou­ple of other va­ri­eties with dif­fer­ent amounts of ag­ing. Their first batch of rum, in what they call the “Navy style,” was made spe­cial for the com­mis­sion­ing of the new de­stroyer USS Zumwalt this month in Bal­ti­more and is called Big ‘Z’ Rum. Some of the pro­ceeds from the sales will go to­ward spon­sor­ing the new ship’s crew.

While the Big ‘Z’ Rum is sold at liquor stores around the state, the other cur­rently avail­able spir­its are sold lo­cally, mostly in St. Mary’s and Calvert coun­ties, in­clud­ing at two farmer’s mar­kets — Home Grown Farm Mar­ket in Lex­ing­ton Park and Cal­i­for­nia Farmer’s Mar­ket (BAE) on Satur­days from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.

A big part of the dis­tillery’s ef­fort, aside from bring­ing bour­bon back to St. Mary’s, is pro­mot­ing value-added agri­cul­ture and di­ver­si­fi­ca­tion to keep farms in pro­duc­tion and part­ner with busi­nesses to cre­ate mar­kets for each other’s prod­ucts and ser­vices.

“Ever ybody’s at­tracted to the dis­till­ing side of this,” San­ders said. “We usu­ally put that to­ward the tail end of the con­ver­sa­tion, be­cause to us it’s more about value-added agri­cul­ture, di­ver­si­fy­ing our econ­omy down here, work­ing with other busi­nesses and cre­at­ing op­por­tu­ni­ties for ev­ery­body — then, yeah, we’re mak­ing a re­ally good prod­uct.”

Daw­son, whose fam­ily has farmed the land in Hol­ly­wood since the 1930s, said start­ing the dis­tillery was one way to keep the farm in pro­duc­tion and pre­serve some of the pro­duc­tive agri­cul­tural land that has been dis­ap­pear­ing since the tobacco buy­out, and keep it out of the hands of de­vel­op­ers as long as pos­si­ble.

“When tobacco left the county, to a great ex­tent, we started grow­ing hous­ing,” Daw­son said. “That’s the last crop that you ever grow.”

“Like ev­ery­body down here, we’re help­ing di­ver­sify the econ­omy and cre­ate bet­ter value-added agri­cul­ture prod­ucts,” San­ders said, “be­cause you can­not keep a farm in the fam­ily grow­ing soy­beans and corn, not in 20 acres.”


Scott San­ders, left, Dan Daw­son and Sean Coogan with a bar­rel of South­ern Mary­land’s first le­gal dis­tilled spir­its in 2015.


Tobacco Barn Dis­tillery pro­duced sev­eral rums to sell lo­cally, in­clud­ing the Big ‘Z’ Rum for the com­mis­sion­ing of the new de­stroyer the USS Zumwalt.


The la­bel for Tobacco Barn Dis­tillery’s Moll Dyer cin­na­mon-fla­vored whiskey.

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