Legislators work to make Maryland Rye official state spirit

Kara Thompson//March 30, 2023

Legislators work to make Maryland Rye official state spirit

By Capital News Service

//Kara Thompson

//March 30, 2023

A glass containing rye whiskey is seen at the cocktail lounge Feb. 8 at Baltimore Spirits Company. (AP Photo/Julio Cortez)

ANNAPOLIS — The Baltimore Oriole. The Diamondback Terrapin. Lacrosse. The Blue Crab. Black-eyed Susans. Marylanders soon may be toasting those state symbols with a new one – Maryland Rye, the proposed state spirit.

While there are attempts most years to make something a state symbol, many do not pass. In 2002, former Democratic delegates David Rudolph and James Crouse introduced a bill that would make apple oatmeal cookies the state cookie. Both apples and cereal grass, which is used to make oatmeal, are large crops in Maryland, and the hope was to support and pay homage to the agricultural industry by making this the state cookie.

That bill did not pass, nor did the 2019 attempt by former Del. Wendell Beitzel, R-Garrett and Allegany, to make the long-tailed salamander the state amphibian.

But HB178 is bipartisan, with Del. Mike Griffith, R-Cecil and Harford being one of 10 delegates sponsoring the bill; the other nine sponsors are House Democrats. Former Del. Kirill Reznik, D-Montgomery originally introduced the bill, but retired March 21 to join the Department of Human Services. In the Senate, Sen. Stephen Hershey, R-Kent, Queen Anne’s, Cecil and Caroline introduced SB497, the cross-filed version of the bill.

“Here’s a bill sure to lift your spirits,” said Sen. Ron Watson, D-Prince George’s, when he summarized the bill for second reader on the Senate floor Thursday.

The bill was introduced in both the House and the Senate in last year’s legislative session but did not make it out of committee. Not only did it get out of committee this year, but the House version made the “crossover deadline,” meaning it passed one chamber and will receive consideration by the other.

“The bill was kind of inspired by what we’ve seen in Kentucky with the Bourbon Trail,” said Hershey. “We had some economic development numbers that were just really inspiring us to put the same type of designation on rye whiskey and then hopefully see if we can do something similar to the Bourbon Trail.”

Maryland has a long history with rye whiskey.

“Whiskey was one of the first styles of spirit, along with rum, that were produced here in the colonies in the new world,” said Jim Bauckman, director of communications at Grow & Fortify, which is a part of the Maryland Distillers Guild. “Maryland was home to an environment and a topography that lends itself very well to growth and production of rye as a grain and local farmers started using that rye grain as the basis for producing their spirits.”

Laws in Maryland have also recently changed to allow for more of a boom for distilleries.

“A few years ago, we started getting more distilleries in Maryland as well. We passed legislation that allowed them to have tours at their distilleries and to be able to sell a few bottles of the spirits that were produced there,” Hershey said. “Since then, we’ve seen this industry grow.”

All state symbols can be found in the Annotated Code of Maryland’s General Provisions Article and include some very strange items. For example, although the state team sport is lacrosse, jousting is actually Maryland’s state sport. Since 1998, the state drink has been milk, and as of 2021, Maryland has 325 farms with about 42,000 cows producing the beverage.


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