Thursday, April 20, 2017

Rye whiskey on the waterfront

Baltimore around 1910 (Maryland Archive)
Rye whiskey has a working class history and has once been an identifiable and important part of Baltimore's history. The poor man's whiskey, Pikesville 3-year 80-proof ceased production in 2016 just when Sagamore Spirit geared up to its full scale production in a brand-new waterfront distillery for which the ribbon was cut Thursday. Certainly there will be those who cast the story of Baltimore's rye whiskey into the narrative of the two Baltimores with Kevin Plank's venture into whiskey production as just another sign of a corporate takeover of Baltimore. Others, including guests who talked at the ribbon cutting, (Mayor Pugh, Congressman Ruppersberger, Lieutenant Governor Rutherford) welcome the revival of a rich Baltimore history as an economic development initiative in the mold of local production and an enhancement of the Baltimore brand.

Sagamore Spirit, one of the Plank Industries, seems like a quirky move by Kevin Plank, with its farm architecture taken from his 530 acre Baltimore County farm planted on Baltimore's industrial waterfront by architects of Ayer Saint Gross. The Baltimore firm with its offices overlooking the Domino Sugar operations is Baltimore's waterfront expert, it

prepared among other things the Harbor 2.0 masterplan for the Inner Harbor.
“There is no article made in Baltimore that has done more to spread the fame of the city as a commercial center than has Hunter Baltimore Rye.” (1912 publication quoted by Jacques Kelly)
When ASG designed Plank's distillery the bigger Plan for Port Covington had not been publicly hatched yet and the distillery was designed as a solitaire. At the initial design presentation to UDARP in March of 2015 the Sagamore representative stated no knowledge about the overall plans for Port Covington. UDARP members considered the farm theme "manufactured" and Planning Director Stosur found that "too many stories [were] being told here". Now, after the full plan is known, one can be sure that the distillery with its 120' old style water tank will eventually stick out as whimsical amidst the glass towers of Under Armour's new headquarters and the dense surrounding city envisioned to emerge from the old industrial Port Covington railyard. But that may be a good thing, given that new towns usually suffer from a certain kind of blandness that comes from everything being new and of the same vintage and mindset. The architecture manages to blend clean, modern details with the rural vernacular of the buildings.

The Sagamore Farm well-house from 1907
The water-tank carries the story of Sagamore Farm's special limestone spring water that will be trucked here as a key ingredient for whiskey making. The spring water's 1907 well house is a cornerstone of Sagamore Spirit and is said to have brought the idea of whiskey production to Kevin Plank. Apparently he had been asked to consider wine making on his farm but didn't consider himself to be a wine guy.

Whiskey with its own Baltimore story fascinated Plank who was not at hand at the opening and had the stories told by Sagamore Spirit founding partner Bill McDermond. Plank is trying to tie his global Under Armour brand to memorable local roots and generate a narrative of local production.

The distillery is not a toy project. It already provides 50 jobs (without the restaurant which will open in June), its four grain silos hold 40,000 pounds of
Silos, barns and water-tower on the waterfront
 (Photo Philipsen)
grain each, the 5 acre, 61,000 sqft facility expects 100,000 visitors annually. The restaurant operator is the same guy from New York who runs the Pendry's restaurant in Fell Point. The interior of the restaurant which was not yet on display is designed by Patrick Sutton, who also designed the interior of the Pendry Hotel.

Two of the three initial projects that now dot the Port Covington waterfront are early indicators of Plank's ambitions for making stuff in Baltimore: City Garage, and the whiskey distillery. The converted Sams Club is currently used for HR offices and will be later demolished.

Plank's high flying company took a few hits recently, demonstrating what Baltimore has learned many times before: In a fast moving
Careful landscaping by Core Studio Design
(Photo Philipsen)
world it is impossible to predict 25 years into the future. This shouldn't be an excuse not to plan for it anyway. The Port Covington masterplan may be modified many times.

Meanwhile folks who like to chill over a drink and food while gazing over the water of the Middle Branch can do this now not only at Nick's Fish House, possibly also partially owned by Plank, but also at Sagamore Spirit and its new restaurant.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The distillery will be open to the public for free tours during opening weekend on April 21 – 23. Tours will be available from 10:00 a.m. until 6:00 p.m. with the last tour beginning at 5:00 p.m.

Sagamore Spirits wants to revive Maryland's rye whiskey heritage
The golden era of Baltimore made rye whiskey

A new whiskey that won awards for the bottle and
the content (Photo Philipsen)

View from the deck of the visitor center
(Photo Philipsen)

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