Legislator making push to make Md. Rye whiskey official state spirit
ANNAPOLIS, Md. — A Montgomery County legislator is pushing a bill that would make Maryland Rye whiskey the official state spirit — a step, he hopes, toward restoring Maryland’s forgotten history as a respected producer of the liquor.
Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Gaithersburg, a self-described history enthusiast and whiskey fan, said he submitted the bill after noticing distilleries outside the state producing “Maryland Rye” whiskey. He said he hopes the bill helps statewide efforts to recapture rye whiskey production, which was third in the country behind Kentucky and Pennsylvania before Prohibition.
Bills to create new state symbols are frequently submitted and rejected due to the past approval of peculiar symbols such as the official state dinosaur (Astrodon johnstoni), he said.
“The legislature is loathe to add more state symbols,” he said.
Reznik said he’s counting on the bill’s supporters to help make the case.
“There is real economic benefit here,” he said. “The people who are supporting this effort… are legitimate Maryland businesses, legitimate supporters of tourism.”
Reznik’s bill is cross-filed in the Senate. Hearings for both are scheduled for next month, just before the deadline for legislation to pass between chambers.
Reznik joins a growing group of farmers and distillers who are trying to reignite the state’s rye industry, particularly the Baltimore distillery Sagamore Spirit, which started growing its own rye in 2018. The distillery, with the help of several recruited farmers, now raises nearly 500 acres. Sagamore is also in the process of aging its first Maryland-grown rye whiskey, which it previewed in November. Billionaire Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank and Bill McDermond founded the distillery in 2013.
A third of the nation’s rye whiskey supply was held in Maryland in 1933, according to the distillery, but World War II ended that when the state’s distilleries began producing ethanol to supplement the military’s fuel supply. After the war, federal corn subsidies and the crop’s simpler harvest eliminated most of the state’s rye acreage, and the whiskey disappeared with it.
Maryland does not currently have an official spirit. The bill, if approved, would add Maryland Rye to the list of official state symbols, which include the Smith Island Cake (the official state dessert) and jousting (the official sport).