Words by Kaylee Dugan, Photos by Clarissa Villondo
Summer has almost descended. Walking around D.C. once again feels like being in a perpetual sauna. Don’t get me wrong, I love this city and I love living here, but there is something about D.C. in the summer that makes you want to turn around and leave. We’ve written before about how easy it is to get the hell out of dodge in this city, we’ve even helped you plan out a day in Virginia’s wine country, but forget about all that. Instead of grabbing a rental car and hopping on 395 we decided to hop onto 270 and take a trip to Frederick, Maryland, home of Flying Dog, Volt and more importantly, a range of small craft distillers.
In the last few years Frederick has really seen a boom of local breweries and distilleries, but really, it’s always been a crafty town. Our first stop (after swinging by the welcome center for a little sweet infotainment) is McCutcheon’s. Since 1938 the McCutcheon family has been pumping out some of the best preserves, cider and (most importantly) apple butter you can get. While they’re not making any alcoholic cider at the moment, there are big future plans to come out with a variety of boozy options. Although, just because they’re not ready to produce their own hard cider, that doesn’t mean you can’t find harder versions of some of their signature products.
10 minutes away at 10th Ward Distillery, they’re adding McCutcheon’s fine cider to their Citrine Liqueur, a seasonal offering that’s floral and bright. On the sunny day we swing by the small distillery, co-founder Monica Pearce recommended mixing it up with some champagne. Opened in July 2016, Pearce and her co-founder Kyle Pfalzer are already making a name for themselves when it comes to their unusual combinations. Due to Maryland’s wildly arcane liquor laws, you’re tasting experience will 100% be limited, but I highly recommend getting a taste (or a bottle) of the Claude Countee Corn Whiskey. Made with smoked corn, it tastes more like a mezcal than a white whiskey and the smokey flavor rolls right across the tongue. I’m sure it would be excellent in a margarita, but it also has enough character that I’ve easily enjoyed it on ice. Likewise, their Caraway Rye has a savory, herb forward flavor that pairs nicely with the spice of the malted rye. It would make a killer Old Fashioned.
If you’re looking for something a little more classic, a good base spirit that could be used in almost anything, newcomers McClintock Distillery have your back. Their Forager Gin would be a great gateway drug for those who get turned off by the taste of Bombay and Tanqueray, especially with its bright citrus notes. Likewise, their white whiskey doesn’t try to be anything it’s not. They’ve nailed a simple and drinkable white rye. Of course, if neutral spirits are more your thing, they also have the Epiphany Vodka, made with their super smooth granite ground grain. Their space is the largest by far, with an impressive 264-gallon copper still. It’s the kind of place where you could easily lose a few hours.
After stopping by the Wine Kitchen to eat our weight in delicious food (and getting some booze-induced sleep) we woke up refreshed and ready (and only a little hungover) for our trek out to Springfield Manor Distillery. The furthest of the distilleries from downtown, Frederick, Springfield Manor does both wine and liquor, but more importantly, the location is absolutely gorgeous. With the Catoctin Mountains so close, it’s the ideal spot to crack open and a bottle of something nice and get day drunk on their patio.
For folks who don’t actually drink, owners Amie and John St. Angelo are producing a ton of liquor. From rum to gin to whiskey, to an entire line of fruit brandies, Springfield Manor has essentially everything. They’ve even been making a grappa out of their red wine grape skins. Since you won’t be able to taste it all (we’re really going to have to do something about these Maryland liquor laws…), you absolutely need to try their lavender gin. Made from lavender they grow on-site, it’s a delicate, heady drink that tastes unlike any other gin I’ve ever had. I can’t imagine pairing it with tonic, that’s how good it is. Of course, their rums and brandies aren’t anything to scoff at either, but that gin alone is worth the trip.
After spending a little too much time exploring the beautiful The Stone Manor Inn (which is right next door and is also owned by the St. Angelo’s and also I want to move in and live there forever), we made our way to the last distillery of the weekend. What Dragon Distillery lacks in views, they make up for in charm. As Frederick’s first official distillery, their line up has had a little more time to get out all the kinks, and it shows. Dragon not only has a robust line of core offerings, but they’re also coming out with special edition seasonal releases at an almost constant pace, including collaborations with our favorite Frederick brewer, Flying Dog. If you’re not a vodka fan, you might be tempted to skip Dragon, but I wouldn’t recommend it. Their flavored vodkas are worlds away from the plastic bottle vodka you drank in college. I’m not a huge fan of sweet drinks, but their Chainmail Cherry-Almond Vodka 100% won me over. I could easily see myself finishing off a meal with this instead of dessert wine.
With its combination of great distilleries and a stupidly cute downtown area, Frederick is everything we’re looking for in an escape. The next time you have one of those weeks where the Metro is on fire again, you can’t get a seat at your favorite bar and your landlord wants to raise the rent, consider getting the hell out of D.C. and driving straight into the arms of Frederick. At the very least, there will be enough local booze to soothe your wounds.