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The Maryland Rye scene just got a little more diverse. Meinelschmidt Distillery tucked in the hills of western Maryland squeezed between Pennsylvania and West Virginia, has released the county’s first rye whiskey since prohibition.

Meinelschmidt Maryland Rye Whiskey is young, aged six months in new American oak barrels with Level 3 char, giving it a mild toasted taste. It also has a bourbon-style sweetness with a spicy rye undercurrent that flows gently across your tongue. This young pup comes in strong at 103 proof, and it’s a serious contender as more Meinelschmidt rye whiskey continues aging in the barrel.

Meinelschmidt’s Maryland Rye Whiskey scores 78 points and wins a Bronze Medal, while Meinelschmidt Cask Strength Wheated Whiskey takes the Gold, scoring 93 points.

bartender spirits awards 2022

Meinelschmidt Maryland Rye Whiskey

The distillery started working with rye in 2021. The mash bill is 65% Maryland rye, 17% corn, and 18% malted barley. It’s aged in new American oak barrels from Montana.

For comparison, George Washington used 60-percent rye in his whiskey. Co-owner and co-distiller Cort Meinelschmidt says they wanted to go heavy on the rye. Yet, Meinelschmidt Maryland Rye misses the harsh swat of many rye whiskeys.

“That was luck,” says Cort. “We hit it on the nail.”

They’re casking two barrels every quarter and releasing one barrel a quarter. That’s about 250, 750-liter bottles per quarter.

Meinelschmidt is the definition of ‘small batch’. They expect to stay small batch but grow the barrel numbers as the young distillery evolves.

Rye whiskey is slow going. The mash is a thick, glue-like mess. When I asked about that, the other co-owner and co-distiller, Chelsea Meinelschmidt, stopped moving grain bags and let go of a hearty laugh.

Here’s the dirty secret behind making Maryland Rye whiskey. Distillers use a different yeast for rye than other whiskeys. When added to malted grains — which Meinselschmidt uses in all its whiskey — the yeast creates a bubbly mash similar to oatmeal, which must be carefully monitored.

Then, after distillation, the gooey mash has to be scrubbed out of all of the equipment before it hardens.

“It sucked,” Cort added, “but it makes a great product.”

How does Maryland Rye Whiskey taste? Here’s what Meinelschmidt says:

NOSE – floral, earthy and faint butterscotch 
TASTE – Notes of caramel followed by spice and pepper with subtle vanilla and flecks of sweetness then on the back end, a distinct black pepper that eases into a smooth vanilla finish.

About the Meinelschmidt Distillery Team

The distillery is the creation of Cort and Chelsea Meinelschmidt, a husband and wife team who decided to build the business in Hagerstown’s historic downtown.

Both grew up in the Hagerstown area, but they didn’t meet until after Cort left the Navy, where he was a rescue swimmer credited with saving 15 lives. He returned to Hagerstown and became a financial advisor. Chelsea was a special education teacher.

They met at a local fundraiser similar to the famous “Dancing With the Stars,” where a local celebrity pairs up with a professional dancer. It turns out, Chelsea was a dancer as well as an educator. Those dance training sessions led to marriage.

Cort started his own investment management company. Chelsea continued teaching. Along the way, as these things happen, they became interested in whiskeys. When traveling, they’d swing by the nearest distillery for a taste. After dancing through many distilleries, they built their own in 2020.

Cort & Chelsea Meinelschmidt

The distillery is very much a tribute to military veterans like Cort. A white linen-covered table stands in the front corner, set with white china and a fresh red rose in a slim silver vase to honor the fallen.

Each bottle that Meinelschmidt produces has the story of a Medal of Honor winner on the back.

Meinelschmidt Distillery labels look like they were stamped on with an old military press, and the name of the spirit is on an insignia in the shape of dog tags. Bottles are topped with metal-gray wax and look like a military canteen.

Meinelschmidt Spirits – How They Create the Magic

Cort and Chelsea Meinelschmidt are the distillers. They only recently hired employees. Two bartenders.

They are a very confident, fun-loving couple of distillers. When asked if the rye whiskey is any good, Cort looked me directly in the eyes with a half-smile and, after a pause, answered softly but knowingly, “Yes.”

How can a young whiskey be that good? Cort gives credit to their mash blends and how they choose their cuts. Distillers remove the start (heads) and end (tails) during the distillation run. The trick is finding where to make the cuts to find the “heart” so the spirit isn’t bland or has too much bitter alcohol taste.

Chelsea Meinelschmidt stirring the mash

Cort says they created the recipe by trial and error. Chelsea points out that both must agree on the cuts before the product is barreled. No whiskey is bottled until both agree that the spirit has properly been soaked in oak.

Meinelschmidt Vodka

Meinelschmidt’s first release was Pretty Girl Handcrafted Vodka, named after their very good dog, Coco, a bulldog who died from an autoimmune disorder. A portion of the proceeds goes to support animal rescue groups.

The original vodka came from mistakes made while distilling wheated whiskey.

“Our whole theory was, if it isn’t good we can turn it into vodka. We made a lot of vodka in the beginning,” says Cort.

Pretty Girl vodka is now made 100% from Maryland corn. No more whiskey mistakes.

Grain outside Meinelschmidt Distillery door
Just delivered Maryland grain waiting outside Meinelschmidt Distillery’s front door

All grains used in Meinelschimidt spirits are non-GMO grains grown by Ernst Grain near Clear Spring, Maryland.

Meinelschmidt Wheated Whiskey

The Meinelschmidts started with wheated whiskey because that’s what they enjoyed drinking. They use 27% white winter wheat, 40% yellow #2 corn, 20% bloody butcher corn, and the rest is malted wheat.

Distilled mash goes into “reused cooperage” and after at least six weeks, some is bottled at cask strength, 110 proof. The 82-proof Wheated Whiskey is blended from various barrels of the same mash.

Cort describes the nose of the Wheated Whiskey as “a warm summer breeze filled with sweet corn and flowers.”

The tasting notes include “sweet corn and butterscotch with a sneaky spicy bit on the tongue,” according to Cort. “Then, returning to the predominately sweet corn with floral tones,” he adds. “The end hits with spice and vanilla, then lingering butterscotch.”

Because it’s young, the whiskey is tasty but doesn’t get complicated. You won’t find many earthy or nutty flavors. However, Meinelschmidt is one to make you rethink young whiskeys.

Bottles of Cinnamon-Flavored and Wheated Whiskey in the barrel room

Flavored Whiskeys

Using that Wheated Whiskey as a base, Meinelschmidt created honey-flavored and cinnamon-flavored whiskey.

They use local honey in the honey whiskey. It tends to separate, so you have to shake it a bit before drinking. It’s not as sweet as other honeyed whiskeys, and you can taste the 82-proof alcohol level through the honey. That’s high for a honeyed whiskey. We found that adding an ice cube blends it out nicely.

Meinelschmidt is planning other one-off products, including 100% wheat.

Meinelschmidt Bourbon

Meinelschmidt has bourbon aging in the barrel. It’s not bottled yet. They use two types of corn, 67% bloody butcher and 20% yellow corn #2. Another 20% is white winter wheat, with malted wheat and malted barley rounding it off.

The bourbon will be released on New Year’s Eve 2023. Exactly three years after it’s first barreled.

Meinelschmidt bourbon aging in new American oak barrels for at least three years

How to find Meinelschmidt Distillery?

Meinelschmidt Distillery is located in the old Masonic Lodge at 54 S. Potomac Street in downtown Hagerstown, Maryland.

They have a tasting room that also serves cocktails. Tours are available on request, but the tasting room has a window looking down into the basement distillery and barrel storage area.

Meinelschmidt Distillery stills
View of Meinelschmidt Distillery stills from the tasting room

The basement is not heated in the winter or cooled in the summer because the whiskey is soaking naturally into each barrel’s charred oak and out again.

The distillery tasting room is open evenings during the week, on afternoons, and into the evening on Saturday, and Sunday afternoons. One day a week, the room turns into a comedy club, but on occasion, it’s also a yoga studio and home to many other events.

Check the Meinelschmidt Distillery website or call for more information and any restrictions.

What do Meinelschmidt Distillery whiskeys cost?

The whiskey soldiers standing by for purchase

Wheated Whiskey (82 proof) $38

Cask Strength Wheated Whiskey (110 proof) $55

Cinnamon-Flavored Whiskey (82 proof) $40

Honey-Flavored Whiskey (82 proof) $40

Maryland Rye Whiskey (103 proof) $50