- Associated Press - Sunday, November 27, 2016

BALTIMORE (AP) - As friends and neighbors in Butchers Hill, Mark McLaughlin and Arch Watkins, the owners of Old Line Spirits, call Baltimore home. But their flagship product - an American Single-Malt Whiskey- is currently made more than 400 miles away, in Columbus, Ohio.

That should change this month, when Old Line plans to begin producing their whiskey in Highlandtown. The 25,000-square-foot facility at 4201 E. Pratt St. passed inspection by the fire marshal on Nov. 4, McLaughlin said, and the final step is approval from the building inspector.

“If everything lines up, we should be good to start making whiskey (really soon),” McLaughlin, 37, said earlier this month.

They hope to open the doors to the public in December, McLaughlin said. The plan is to eventually utilize 2,000 square feet for office and retail space, along with a tasting room.

Despite the currently nomadic operation - the partners fly out to Ohio once every three months to contract-distill with Middle West Spirits - Old Line has not waited to get their products on local shelves. The whiskey entered the Baltimore market at the end of April, and this week, their latest products - Old Line Aged Caribbean Rum, regular (84 proof) and Navy Strength (114 proof) - started to hit city stores, McLaughlin said.

The rum is produced and aged in the Dominican Republic, but the recipes are Old Line’s, they said. The owners said their rums’ recipes are a bit less sweet than most rums on the market.

“If a person who typically drinks whiskey wants something a little different, we’re hoping they’ll consider reaching for one of the rums,” McLaughlin said. “We tried to target something that was just a tiny bit drier, a tiny bit less sweet.”

Their whiskey is also relatively less common since it’s an American single-malt style, McLaughlin said. They use the same type of grain primarily used in a single-malt Scotch - two-row malted barley - but Old Line then ages it in a new oak barrel like a bourbon. As a result, the spirit picks up notes of vanilla, honey and caramel from the wood, he said.

“Within the single-malt category, you have some people like us trying to embrace the American nature of it, and you have others who are trying to mimic Scotch,” McLaughlin said. “I think they are both great ways to go. Our preference is just the more American style.”

This sort of freedom is what drew McLaughlin and Watkins to the microdistilling industry. After meeting on active duty as Naval flight officers in Seattle, they both moved to the East Coast as Navy reserves. In Baltimore, McLaughlin had a career in finance, while Watkins - a now 40-year-old native of Tallahassee, Florida - was an engineer, but both felt something was missing.

“We were both itching to do something a little more entrepreneurial,” said McLaughlin, who grew up in the Boston area.

The rise of craft alcohol and the response to Old Line’s products thus far excites the duo, and they’re looking forward to finally start distilling their whiskey in Baltimore. (The rum will continue to be produced in the Dominican Republic.) The current goal of Old Line, they said, is to grow the brand here first.

“Our near-term focus is getting our products out there in the Mid-Atlantic (region),” McLaughlin said. “We think what we have here in Baltimore is a good footprint for that. Twenty-five-thousand square feet feels a little empty right now, but it’s a good launching pad to do that.”

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