Maryland Success Story
In Maryland, Windon Distilling helped revive the distilling industry. See what this growing distillery is up to.
From Passion Project to Boozy Business
When Windon Distilling , makers of Lyon Rum, set up shop on the Eastern Shore in 2012, co-founders Jaime Windon and Ben Lyon had no idea they were at the beginning of a craft beverage revival—not only in Maryland, but across the country.
At the time, there was only one distillery in the state. The duo wanted to create something different, something they would be proud of, and most importantly… something they really wanted to drink. There wasn’t an extensive business plan or a desire to redefine the distilling industry, but somehow, this passion project became a bustling business right before their eyes.
Since launching, the company has grown from two to 12 employees and expanded from a small 100 square-foot space to a 5,000 square-foot facility with room to grow. Jaime tells us that the company is on a major growth trajectory and hopes to continue riding this wave for the next few years.
“In our first full year we produced under 1,000 gallons, which is roughly 5,000 bottles. In 2017, we did 3,000 gallons, and we hope to double production and do 6,000 gallons in 2018, and even more in 2019,” said Windon. “This is our growth time.”
Spirits in St. Michaels
The distillery launched its signature line of rum in 2013, showcasing America’s history with distilling dating back to the 1700’s, while also paying tribute to the Eastern Shore’s rich maritime traditions. The Talbot County business says rum might be an unexpected choice for a micro distillery, but their unique spin on the spirit is used in ways people would never expect.
“Making rum is not common for a small distillery,” said Jaime. “Rum is kind of an underdog and we liked that. We saw a hole in the market where there was a spirit that we could put our own unique twist on.”
The following year, they surprised the industry again by producing a rye whiskey—something that hadn’t been done in Maryland for more than 40 years. Named the Maryland Free State Rye Whiskey, the spirit embodies the state’s rebellion during the Prohibition, and its rebound in the 1930’s as one of the country’s leading rye producers.
In addition to their white rum, dark rum, and rye whiskey, Windon Distilling has created a total of 15 different spirits. Handcrafted from start to finish, the team prides itself on creating spirits without cutting corners. Every product is made by hand – from fermenting to bottling – creating an authentic and unique narrative for Maryland’s distilling scene.
“St. Michaels is full of hard workers – farmers, watermen, boat builders – these folks have dirt under their nails. A distillery was a great fit,” said Windon. “We still don’t have a bottling machine…it’s all still done by our employees, it’s all done by hand.”
Building a Craft Beverage Community
Supporting the local community as well as Maryland’s craft industry is something Windon Distilling strives towards. The distiller is located in an old flour mill next to Eastern Shore Brewing and St. Michaels Winery, where these three independently-owned and operated facilities form Maryland’s only booze trifecta. There’s something available for everyone and it’s all in walking distance.
An important contributor in the community, Windon Distilling supports nonprofits and local partners through distillery tours, spirit tastings, and special events. The distiller has partnered with DuClaw and Jailbreak Brewing to create unique beer products. Collaborations with local coffee companies – including Rise Up Coffee Roasters – results in coffee rum. Additionally, the distillery sells a black rum in partnership with the Eastern Shore Land Conservancy, where five dollars from every bottle sold goes back to preserving the farmland and habitat on the shore—more than $2,500 to date.
Growing the Guild
Jaime tells us that back in 2012, there were approximately 100 craft distilleries across the country. In just five years, that number has grown rapidly and is quickly approaching 2,000—with more than 25 distilleries in Maryland and many more in the works. And as President of the Maryland Distillers Guild , Jaime is in good spirits as she hopes to help up-and-coming distillers break into the business.
“It’s quite rewarding to be able to help out others,” said Windon. “When we started, there was no one to help me. I’m a big believer in paying it forward.”
While Maryland may have been behind the curve when this craft beverage renaissance began, the state is catching up and now considered one of the fastest growing in the distilling industry.
“This is just the beginning of craft beverages in Maryland. It used to be one of our state’s preeminent industries – Maryland was the cradle of distilling – and now we’re reigniting that.”
In the end, Windon Distilling wouldn’t be what it is today without its team of workers. Jaime is most proud of how her team has grown over the years, and how they have impacted the visitors in St. Michaels. Growing this group of employees, educating and empowering them to learn what’s in each spirit and where it comes from, and passing that education onto customers and others in the industry is what it’s all about. Education is important...but booze education is the most fun.
“I’m very, very proud of what we do,” said Windon. “It’s a great feeling to wake up, put on my work boots, open the door and make booze every day...I’m really enjoying it.”
This is just the beginning of craft beverages in Maryland. It used to be one of our state’s preeminent industries – Maryland was the cradle of distilling – and now we’re reigniting that.