As a whiskey industry observer, it’s always nice to see another company that initially built itself off sourced spirit celebrate the launch of their first truly in-house, 100% bespoke product. That’s a huge moment in the history of a company like Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit, which has faithfully been preaching the gospel of rye whiskey in Maryland since 2016 at this point. For years, their flagship spirit has been sourced from—you guessed it—MGP of Indiana, the kings of the sourced rye world, whose ubiquitous 95/5 rye recipe (Sagamore is a blend of two recipes) can be found in everything from Bulleit Rye and Dickel Rye to Templeton Rye, Redemption Rye and beyond. But fans have likewise been patiently waiting for the first brand wholly distilled by Sagamore to arrive, and it now has in the form of Sagamore Spirit Bottled in Bond Straight Rye Whiskey.
This bottle is not just a landmark for the distillery, but a roadmap—as they progress, the company plans to eventually transition all its production to this Maryland-distilled rye, while increasingly incorporating grain grown in the state as well. Like the MGP blend they initially created, this bottled in bond rye is a blend of two different rye whiskey mash bills, a “low rye and high rye” duo. As a federally designated bottled in bond brand, however, the 50% ABV (100 proof) here is a significant upgrade over the 83 proof original, and closer to the 96.6 proof of the (very tasty) Sagamore Spirit Double Oak. There’s no secondary finish here, though—just the purest possible expression of what Maryland rye whiskey is all about. This second batch, launched in Nov. of 2022 (when the product first went into wide release), carries a 5 year age statement.
So with that said, let’s get to tasting and see how Sagamore’s rye whiskey has come of age.
On the nose, my initial impressions are of moderate caramel and prominent caraway seed, making its status as rye whiskey quite clear. There’s significant rye spice, along with fruitiness evoking a little peach and perhaps apple orchard. A stray whiff of tea leaves suggests sweet iced tea, paired with dark pumpernickel bread crust, while anise and cinnamon give a touch of baking spice.
On the palate, this rye is leading off with light caramel and mint, along with tons of pepper and rye spice. There’s a floral element for sure, and the tea crops up again, this time met by peppermint. Anise and cinnamon again evoke the spice cupboard. The flavors aren’t quite as rich as they initially seemed they might be on the nose—this BiB expression doesn’t have that same deeper sweetness one will find in the Double Oak thanks to its secondary maturation. Rather, here the aged spirit is celebrating more of the rye grain and its inherent spice, with mild to moderate sweetness and just a touch of drying astringency. It seems very ready to slot into any classic cocktail application. All in all, there’s more than a little in common here with the MGP spirit that inspired the whole endeavor, and that’s certainly a compliment in the field of American rye whiskey.
Sagamore Spirit’s long road since 2016 has ultimately yielded a pretty classic expression of American rye whiskey here, ready to stir up in a Manhattan at your earliest convenience. Congrats to the distillery for taking the experiment to this point, and we’ll be curious to see where it continues to grow from here.
Distillery: Sagamore Spirit
City: Baltimore, MD
Style: Straight rye whiskey
ABV: 50% (100 proof)
Availability: 750 ml bottles, $60 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.