After a relaxed lunch in Leonardtown (see The Front Porch restaurant for lunch), St. Mary’s County, on Monday, October 9, my wife Cindy and I went to visit Tobacco Barn Distillery (click here to see their full listing in our Food & Drink Business Directory). They are in Hollywood, St. Mary’s County, north of Leonardtown, between the Potomac and Patuxent Rivers. The business is owned and run by three partners (in alphabetical order by surname): Sean Coogan, Dan Dawson, and Scott Sanders, who all have known each other for 30 some years. The partners’ wives, as well as other family members, assist as needs arise.
They all have day jobs, so that’s why we were meeting on the Columbus Day holiday. The distillery is on Dan Dawson’s farm. Look to your right as you drive onto the property, and you’ll see a tobacco barn. It dates back to 1830. While the barn is not used by the distillery itself, it does lend itself to the name of the business: Tobacco Barn Distillery.
One reason they started the business was Dawson wanted to make a better profit off the corn he was planting on his farm. He got involved in distilling in the late 1970s, using corn to make ethanol. Now some 30+ years later, with the growing popularity of craft distilling, the three men decided to go into business together to make bourbon, rye, rum, and whiskey.
Production & storage
Although their first spirit was ready for its debut late last summer, they are still very much in the build-out stage of their undertaking. Their current storage facility (typically called a rick- or rackhouse) for casks is what looks to be a fairly standard shipping container. They are building a permanent rick house, a few yards from where the shipping container currently sits.
You can see how the layout currently looks in the photo below. They are building a tasting room next to the rickhouse. When we were there, the floor was dug-out and tubing was in place to provide heating. The next step will be to pour a concrete floor. Sliding doors will provide access.
Tobacco Barn Distillery tastings
As you can probably tell from the picture above, the tasting room will be a rather cozy size. They expect it may hold a maximum of a dozen people. They will therefore have to use a reservation system of some sort, so they don’t get more folks than they can handle. At this writing, they hope the can start accepting visitors in the spring of 2018. For now, though, they have been offering tastings at off-site locations — follow them on Facebook to get details of upcoming events.
Their focus is on bourbon, whiskey, rye, and rum. Asked about the possibility a gin or vodka in their future, and the answer was a pretty emphatic “No.” For variety, they’re going with variations on their primary spirits, such that in addition to rum, they also offer a honey-flavored version: Dancing Bee Honey Rum. And, in addition to whiskey, they’re making Moll Dyer Cinnamon Whiskey.
Our first attempt to meet the Tobacco Barn folks and taste their spirits was back in July at an event at Robin Hill Farm and Vineyards (see SMADC celebrates Buy Local Challenge 10th anniversary). Their booth was so swamped with people, though, we gave up on trying to get to it. When we told the partners that, they explained that one reason they were so busy was they were serving iced Moll Dyer cinnamon whiskey (it was that or the honey rum). Given it was a very hot and humid evening, it’s no wonder their booth was doing great business.
Southern Maryland, and Tobacco Barn Distillery, have been deeply influenced by our surrounding waters. The Wicomico River empties into the Potomac River, which empties into the Chesapeake Bay, as does the Patuxent River. All of which flows into the Atlantic Ocean, of course. Until the development of railroads and paved roads, the waterways were the highways, used by natives and European settlers alike.
The Chesapeake Bay port of Annapolis, the so-called Sailing Capital of the U.S. (and Capital of the state of Maryland), has been home to the the U.S. Naval Academy since 1845. To our north is the Port of Baltimore on the Patapsco River. It is one of the country’s largest and most active ports.
Distillery seafaring associations
Scorpion Brewing Co. used a Tobacco Barn Distillery rum barrel (see Tasting beers at Scorpion Brewing Co.) to help make their Rum Barrel Aged Extra Special Bitter. As explained in that article, the brewery takes its name from a U.S. ship that fought in the War of 1812.
Tobacco Barn Distillery Partner Scott Sanders is a graduate of the U.S. Naval Academy. He retired as a two-star Rear Admiral. Sanders convinced his partners that their first spirit should be a rum to honor the commissioning of the USS Zumwalt in Baltimore on October 15, 2016.
The USS Zumwalt is the world’s largest and most advanced destroyer. The name honors Admiral Elmo Zumwalt, who served in WW II, Korea, and Viet Nam. He was the youngest officer to ever serve as Chief of Naval Operations. The ship is capable of serving in multiple roles: anti-air, anti-submarine, and anti-surface-ship warfare. It’s sleek design, including a tumblehome hull, greatly lowers its radar reflectivity.
Tobacco Barn’s Big Z Rum debuted in September of 2016, shortly before the USS Zumwalt’s commissioning. The rum’s label, which you can see in the photo above, features an image of the ship.
Another ship-related distilling project that Tobacco Barn has undertaken is to age rum the old-fashioned way — aboard the USS Constellation, built in 1854. The Constellation is berthed in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor and cared for by the non-profit organization Historic Ships in Baltimore. The Constellation was the last sail-only ship built for the U.S. Navy.
Historically, sailors got a daily tot of rum. That’s why the spirit was aboard. Reportedly the U.S. Navy adopted the practice in 1794 and ended it in 1914. The motion of the ship sloshed the rum around, helping to increase its contact with the interior of the casks, thereby helping to flavor the rum.
The molasses used to make Tobacco Barn rum is from the Baltimore Domino sugar refinery. You can see the refinery from the Constellation’s dock in the harbor. The distillery placed their rum in barrels previously used to age bourbon. Block and tackle lifted the barrels aboard ship, and lowered them into the hold. There, the motion from wind, tides, and wakes of passing boats rocks the casks, and helps age the rum. After spending a few months aboard, Tobacco Barn brings the rum back to Hollywood, MD and bottle it for sale as “Limited Edition USS Constellation Rum.” A portion of the proceeds is donated to Historic Ships in Baltimore to help support their program.
If you’d like to know more about storing rum aboard the USS Constellation for aging, you may find the following video of interest:
Tobacco Barn Distillery’s spirits are smooth and tasty. The flavored ones, with honey or cinnamon, make for nice after-dinner drinks. I’m sure they’ll have many visitors once they open their tasting room. In the meantime, you can purchase their spirits from one of their growing list of retailers (click here to see the list). ♦