Review: Sagamore Spirit Small Batch Straight Rye

Review: Sagamore Spirit Small Batch Straight Rye

Before bourbon, rye was America’s whiskey of choice. The early history of rye whiskey was centered around the northeastern United States where rye grain growing conditions were best. Two of the more notable styles of rye were known as Maryland Rye and Monongahela Rye from Pennsylvania. Pennsylvania rye mash bills traditionally consisted of all rye grain or at almost all rye. Counter to Pennsylvania, Maryland ryes tended to be sweeter as a good amount of corn and perhaps a small amount of other grains were utilized. Maryland has a rich and legitimate distilling history, but it must be noted that many ryes historically marketed as “Maryland Rye” are better described as “Maryland-style” as they were not actually distilled or aged in Maryland. Further adding to the historical confusion regarding Maryland and rye, many Maryland-style ryes were rectified, meaning that various flavorings were added to the whiskey. Rectification often included coloring agents and various fruit juices. Rectification of Maryland-style rye was so common that numerous brands simply disappeared when the Pure Food and Drug Act of 1906 clamped down on the definition of whiskey.

Despite the popularity of rye whiskey in early America, Prohibition dealt a massive blow to rye whiskey in which rye has only recently gotten up off the mat. The modern rye revival has sought to rejuvenate the history of rye, including Maryland. Baltimore’s Sagamore Spirit has been blending and bottling excellent rye distilled in Indiana for several years as they laid down their own Maryland distillate — which has finally become ready for release as Sagamore Spirit Small Batch Straight Rye.

Profile drift can be an issue as brands transition from non-house distillate to house distillate. Sagamore Spirit has taken a lot of effort to minimize this as they secured the V yeast for their house distillate that was used for their Indiana-distilled rye. The mashbills for their house rye are also the same as their Indiana ryes. The Maryland rye consists of a blend of two whiskeys made from 51% rye, 45% corn, 5% malted barley and one made from 95% rye, 5% malted barley. For this offering, Sagamore Spirit includes a blend of ryes ranging from 4 years old to 6 years old that are all distilled in Maryland.

With history lesson in-hand, how does Sagamore Spirit’s modern Maryland rye do in the glass? Let’s find out!

The initial aroma is bright with orange zest and ginger snaps. The ginger snap element is slightly bready with a twinge of molasses. Allowing the rye to sit for a few minutes brings out notes of butterscotch and tart Granny Smith apple. The nosing experience is clean, crisp, and highly enjoyable.

The bright orange zest from the nose immediately jumps out on the palate as well. While the nose offered up ginger snaps, the palate is still influenced by ginger, but more so in the form of pickled ginger that comes with sushi. The palate arrives as equally bright and crisp as the nose, but the midpalate transitions to heavier notes of toffee, honey, and molasses. It’s fascinating to experience the palate is it moves from crisp to heavy.

Sagamore Spirit Small Batch Straight Rye continues to demonstrate complexity on the finish. Bright orange zest is still present, but a crisp menthol note overshadows the citrus a bit. Vanilla find its moment to shine before heading into a slightly bitter black walnut note that hangs around for quite a while.

Sagamore Spirit Small Batch Straight Rye checks in at 93 proof and is an excellent bottle to keep on your bar at home. It’s a rye that you can enjoy neat, but is also full of character that will make your favorite cocktail more enjoyable. Priced at $40, it’s a good buy that can serve a variety of needs.

93 proof.

B+ / $40 /

Sagamore Spirit Straight Rye




Jacob is a lover of books on American beverage alcohol history and runs Coming Whiskey on Instagram.

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