The wide open spaces of Maryland’s Eastern Shore are ideal for farms, so when the growing season is over, it makes sense that Marylanders love to take grains and grapes and turn them into something they can appreciate year-round. Distilleries, breweries and wineries are prevalent across the region, and harvest season is the perfect time to tour some of the Eastern Shore’s best booze producers. You can even bring a liquid memento of your trip home with you.
Crow Vineyard and Winery
Wineries are growing like vines on the Eastern Shore. One of the newest, Crow Vineyard and Winery, has been a family-owned farm for three generations and began growing grapes and bottling New World-style wines five years ago. Swing by for a tour of the winery, then head to the tasting room to sip wines made from the vineyard’s own grapes.
Crow’s 2012 Barbera Reserve is a full-bodied red with flavors of black cherry,caramel and cinnamon. The 2013 Vidal Blanc is a crisp white that suggests pineapple and white cranberries. The Crows also use the Vidal blanc grapes to make a sparkling Vidal and a dessert wine.
If you want to make a weekend of it, stay at the renovated 1847 farm house that’s now the vineyard’s bed and breakfast. This fall, a visit to Crow will be made extra adorable by the presence of new calves on the farm.
“We’ve calved 15 and we have another 17 to go,” says co-owner Judy Crow, who raises a herd of 90 Black Angus cattle for beef. “Just having the babies around is always fun.”
12441 Vansants Corner Road, Kennedyville, Md.; 302-304-0551, crowvineyardandwinery.com.
Lyon Distilling Co.
Nestled between a brewery and a winery, this two-person distillery completes what locals affectionately call St. Michaels’s trifecta of booze. Founded by Jaime Windon and Ben Lyon in an old flour mill in 2013, Lyon Distilling Co. produces craft rum, rye whiskey and corn whiskey.
“It’s just the two of us making everything by hand,” says Windon, who is also the president of the Maryland Distillers Guild.
Visitors can tour the facility, which perpetually smells like molasses. The distillery’s flagship booze is its dark rum, made from a mixture of molasses and cane sugar. The honey-colored spirit gets its hue from homemade caramel, which adds a deep, sweet, smoky flavor.
“It turns down the grassiness of the cane sugar and pulls up the molasses notes,” Windon says. With cool weather approaching, it’s fantastic as a base for eggnog or mixed with warm apple cider.
605 S. Talbot St. #6, St. Michaels, Md.; 443-333-9181, lyondistilling.com.
That vodka and rum you’re sipping on from Kent Island’s Blackwater Distilling? It’s made using the same water that surrounds this shark-fin-shaped fleck of land off the Eastern Shore. “I think it resonates with people to see our process and know where our ingredients come from,” says Jon Cook, co-founder and chief operating officer of the family-run distillery.
Blackwater also produces Sloop Betty Honey, a vodka blended with honey collected on the island. In production since 2011, the Sloop Betty vodka line is made from gluten-free wheat berries, which lend the spirit a tinge of vanilla.
In late October, Blackwater will start selling kits that allow you to infuse your own spirits with cloves, cinnamon sticks, local apples and ginger for an apple pie-like flavor. Tours of the 5,000-square-foot facility, during which you learn the science of fermentation, distilling and aging, cost $5 and are held every Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
184 Log Canoe Circle, Stevensville, Md.; 443-249-3123, blackwaterdistilling.com.
When RAR Brewing co-owner Chris Brohawn was a kid, his grandma would take him to an old pool hall in Cambridge, Md., for some quality time. “I remember spending afternoons in there with my grandmother playing pinball and smashing 50-cent hot dogs,” Brohawn says. “That place was awesome.”
In 2013, when Brohawn and business partner J.T. Merryweather were searching for a home for their brewery, Brohawn found himself back inside that pool hall, which was vacant and in need of serious TLC. That August, after major renovations, RAR (an abbreviation for the brewery’s clunkier full name, ReAleRevival) opened its doors. “We both love this town and saw a ton of potential in the downtown area,” says Brohawn, a former electrician. “We honestly didn’t even talk about doing this elsewhere. It was always Cambridge.”
The sleepy small town might not be the most obvious stop on the way to the Eastern Shore, but RAR is helping put Cambridge on the map. The brewery is growing rapidly — they recently bought a building around the corner to house a canning line — and in two years, RAR has made almost 20 different beers, many of which have found their way into D.C. bars. (The brewery started distributing in the city earlier this year.) Just last month, RAR canned its first beer: Nanticoke Nectar, a juicy and bitter West Coast-style India Pale Ale.
You can almost always find the brewery’s flagship offering and best-seller on tap at the brewpub, along with such standards as Bucktown Brown Ale, the Belgian blonde Bottom Feeder and a hefeweizen, Groove City, that Brohawn plans to can next. (RAR is in the process of experimenting with barrel-aged and sour beers.)
The brewpub itself is an open space with a laid-back vibe and a view of the brewing tanks. (RAR doesn’t offer tours of the brewery, but Brohawn is planning to add them in the near future.) Food is prepped behind the bar and the menu features casual pub fare like hot dogs — a nod to the former pool hall — and tater tots smothered in cheese and meat. A custom-built shuffleboard table hosts league play on Tuesdays, and there’s usually free music on the weekends. “Cambridge is a great town with a lot to offer,” Brohawn says. “We just hope one day we can give [this town] as much as they’ve given us.” R.G.
504 Poplar St., Cambridge, Md; 443-225-5664, rarbrewing.com.