Chapter 6: The Elegance of Maryland Rye
Even today, Monongahela is the most prestigious variant of rye whiskey. But from early on, it had a worthy rival—Maryland Rye.
What made Maryland rye distinctive? Well… It might have been the terroir. It might have been the quality of the limestone-filtered water. But most likely it was the presence of corn in its mash bill. This resulted in a milder, smoother, and less spicy rye. Which proved to be a respectable alternative to its Pennsylvania cousin.
Just as Monongahela rye went extinct in Pennsylvania, so too did Maryland rye in the Old Line State. One by one, the distilleries shut down. Pikesville Rye, the last to go, is now made in Kentucky. There is currently a revival of the style by several new Maryland distilleries. How close their formulations are to the original to the original, no one knows. But as a general rule, the stuff from Pennsylvania is spicier and the stuff from Maryland is smoother.
If you’re wondering which is better, you’re asking the wrong question. The real question is: What are you looking for in a drink? Some like it smooth, others spicy. In this way, choosing a rye is like selecting a mate. Suave or rowdy? The choice is yours.
To get a good idea of just how suave a Maryland rye can be, there is no better cocktail than an old Baltimore classic, the Belvedere Frozen Rye.
Belvedere Frozen Rye
juice of half a lime
a few dashes orange juice
a few dashes pineapple syrupa few dashes orange Curacao
slice of orange
slice of pineapple
directions: place slices of orange and pineapple in a champagne coupe, allowing them to stick out as garnish; fill glass with fine ice; mix ingredients and pour over the ice
This is a sweet, festive and utterly delightful drink. But there’s no denying that it’s a lot of fuss to make at home, particularly since the recipe is vague about the proportions of rye and juices. The best way to enjoy a Frozen Rye is in one of the few bars that are still classy enough to serve it. The Belvedere Hotel, where it was invented, has been converted to condominiums, but the Owl Bar remains and it did a bang-up job of the drink the one time I was there.