Founded in 2013 by Kevin Plank (the businessman behind Under Armour), Sagamore Spirits is a craft distillery based in Baltimore, Maryland which produces a range of rye whiskies. Being the owner of Sagamore Farm, which is renowned for its thoroughbred racing horses, Plank decided to build a distillery of the same name that would use the limestone-rich water from the farm to produce the best Maryland-style rye whiskey possible. Historically, Maryland was once a centre of rye whiskey production in the US before prohibition with modern MD rye producers claim that their historic corn-heavy, sweeter style of rye whiskey created the template for the modern bourbon mashbill of no less than 51% corn.
In 2015, having originally sourced rye whiskey stocks from MGP Indiana, Sagamore began construction on a 22,000-square-foot distillery just 22 miles from Sagamore Farm and was one of the first distilleries built in Maryland since the beginning of Prohibition. With production at the facility in full swing since 2017 the distillery boasts a 6,000 gallon mash cooker, nine 6,500 gallon fermenters, and a 40 foot copper still custom built by Vendome. The distillery site covers 5 acres and also includes a 27,000-square-foot visitor’s centre and processing facility which features a full setup of dump troughs, bottling line, and gauging tanks. The visitors centre has a gift shop and tasting rooms with a bar and restaurant adjacent to it. Currently their whiskey is ageing in a 20,000 barrel capacity warehouse in Maryland with plans to construct a 40,000 barrel-capacity ageing ‘barn’ also in the works. Sagamore’s core portfolio consists of their Signature Rye, Cask Strength Rye, and Double Oaked Rye, whilst they’ve also released some limited-edition barrel-finished ryes that have won some very prestigious awards such as World’s Best Rye Whiskey from the 2019 San Francisco World Spirit Competition for their Port-Finished rye whiskey. Their current releases are all feature blends of rye whiskey sourced from MGP, however, instead of bottling just the standard 95/5 MGP rye recipe that so many other brands do, Sagamore blend whiskey from multiple MGP rye mashbills to create their target flavour profile.
Less than a decade old and already producing their own Maryland rye whiskey, Sagamore Spirits initially started with sourced rye whiskey from MGP. Aiming to recreate the legendary Maryland style of a sweeter more approachable rye whiskey Sagamore faced the same difficulty as other producers of Maryland rye: the style, and how to produce it, had almost completely disappeared after Prohibition. With this obstruction and the fact that a legal definition of straight rye whiskey had also introduced since the typically adulterated Maryland style rye had disappeared, Sagamore decided to source stocks of mature rye from MGP to bottle whilst their own stocks matured. However, instead of just sourcing and bottling the 95% rye 5% malted barley recipe we’ve seen umpteen other craft producers use, Sagamore sourced all 3 of MGP’s different rye mash bills, aged them separately, and blended them together to achieve their target Maryland style rye flavour profile. These other mash bills vary in the amount of corn they use with one consisting of 51% rye and 49% malted barley, and the other consisting of 51% rye, 45% corn, and 4% malted barley, to no doubt provide Sagamore with flexibility in achieving their target profile in a way that other producers haven’t yet adopted.
Today I’ll be taking a look at Sagamore’s Double Oak rye whiskey. This whiskey is an undisclosed blend of two sourced MGP rye mashbills – one with a high-rye content and one with a low rye content – in proprietary proportions. Although it doesn’t carry an age-statement, further research confirms that its constituent parts have been aged between 4 and 5 years. Once mature, the whiskey itself was then aged a further 4 months in custom casks which were heavily toasted and not charred to achieve a target profile. As with Sagamore’s other whiskies, this release has been awarded with several prestigious awards including being scored 96 points by the Tasting Panel Magazine and being awarded Double Gold at the 2018 Wine & Spirits Wholesaler of America Competition. This whiskey landed in the UK last year and has already won the hearts of many rye lovers so let’s see if its positive reception is down to a attractive bottle or the quality of the spirit inside.
Name: Sagamore Spirit Double Oaked Rye
Age: NAS but confirmed to be between 4-5 years old
Proof: 96.6 proof (48.3% abv)
Type: Straight rye whiskey
Mashbill: Undisclosed blend of two MGP rye mashbills
Producer: Sagamore Spirits, sourced from MGP
Nose: The nose opens with a mix of sweet, spicy and earthy notes as warm toasted oak, luscious red fruit, and black pepper rye spice all fall out of the glass alongside cinnamon, caramel, and a touch of herbaceous oak towards the back of the palate.
Palate: The palate reflects the nose somewhat, opening wth a sweet deep caramel, intermingled with warm toasted oak spices, a touch of black pepper, strawberries stewed in light brown sugar, and earthy baking spices a-plenty. The longer you continue to chew this whiskey a dark herbaceous charred oak edge develops.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering spice from the palate before tannic oak and a hint of chocolate emerge, leaving an aftertaste of toasted oak and earthy rye spice.
What exactly is it about doing a toasted oak finish with rye whiskey that makes the end result so delicious? Sure, this isn’t the first time that we’ve seen a toasted oak finished rye whiskey, however, the difference here is that this is a relatively readily available product instead of a limited edition. Despite being a blend of MGP sourced stocks the whiskey itself doesn’t carry any of the strong hallmark dill notes of MGP rye whiskey and the deeply tannic and toasted oak spice mixes very well with the earthy and faintly herbaceous rye spice to produce a whiskey that is bold and warmly spicy without being overwhelming. There is still a herbaceous touch to remind you that this is a rye whiskey that you’re sipping, however, this doesn’t detract from the overall experience and the flavours combine to produce a well-balanced and accessible rye whiskey filled with notes of caramel, spice, and everything nice. It also drinks a bit warmer than its proof would suggest and is always a welcome development in my rye whiskies.
Sagamore are on to a strong winner with this release in my opinion! With an aim to bring back more accessible styles of rye whiskies this is another feather in their cap that delivers a rye drinking experience without so much of the aggressive spice that new rye drinkers report. My hope is that one day we’ll see a limited release or two of this whiskey where it’s released at a higher proof such as their cask strength rye whiskey, however, in the mean time this whiskey is easily sourced on both sides of the pond and well worth doing so in my opinion!
Try or Buy?
At around $60 or £70 in the UK a bottle, this whiskey isn’t without a lot of competition in terms of more traditional rye whiskies. However, this is definitely worth anyone’s very strong consideration if rye whiskey is a style they like or are interested to try, especially if what you read in my notes sounds like it’s right up your street! Where else will you get a double oaked rye whiskey that gives a similar flavour-packed drinking experience for cheaper? Exactly!