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Meet the 'flavor scientists' behind Old Bay-flavored Vodka — available in DC, Maryland and Delaware

The Maryland-based spirit just won a prestigious international award. We got to take a tour through the Frederick distillery.

FREDERICK, Md. — There hasn't been a pairing this epic since, perhaps, peanut butter met jelly or macaroni met cheese. 

Old Bay flavored vodka is already available in Maryland, Delaware and, as of Friday, it is officially on sale in Washington D.C. 

In the first three weeks since the product was released in Maryland, Greg David the co-founder of George's Beverage Company in Hanover, says they've sold 3,000 cases in the state; that's 36,000 bottles.

Wow, Maryland. You must be pretty thirsty.  

George's Beverage Company includes the ingenious minds behind an Old Bay Bloody Mary Mix which has been on the market several years. It was produced in a partnership with McCormick Spices, the company that produces Old Bay. 

"We have a relationship with McCormick and Old Bay because of the Old Bay Bloody Mary mix," David said. "They said, how about an Old Bay vodka and I was floored. I said, wow this is a great idea." 

In order to infuse the Old Bay flavor into a spirit, it wasn't as easy as opening a distilling vat and pouring in a few containers of Old Bay.

"In reality it took a lot of time. I wish it was that simple," said Tyler Hegamyer, co-owner of McClintock Distilling in Frederick. "We went through a lot of back and forth trying to find that really particular flavor."  

The first thing the team had to do was produce a liquid version of Old Bay to mix in to the distilling process. Essentially, they created an Old Bay extract. 

Hegamyer says the team went through 46 different iterations before perfecting the mix that's now on sale. It is 70 proof and 35% alcohol. The staff with McClintock, McCormick and George's were collaborating through the COVID-19 pandemic.   

"We'd be in this room with the McClintock team and our team and we'd be Zooming with the McCormick and Old Bay teams. They're scientists. The flavor solution scientists at McCormick did this with us," said David.  

McClintock Distilling had previously been named best craft vodka distillery in the country by USA Today in 2020 before linking up with George's and McCormick Spices.

"I found everything we were looking for after talking to a lot of distilleries in Maryland," said David. "McClintock Distilling in Frederick is actually the only USDA certified organic distillery in the state and one of a few in the country."  

"Its changed us a lot," said Hegamyer. "Old Bay is such a big, iconic brand. It's been so exciting to get involved and work with the different teams."  

We sat down at the bar in the McClintock Distillery to sample the Old Bay vodka. As a pre-existing fan of Old Bay, it wasn't going to take much to win over my unrefined and generally happy palate.

"A lot of people are like, Old Bay vodka. There's no way. And I say, listen. Before you judge it, try it," David said. "This is recipe driven. We're thinking about food and beverages while we're developing this."  

What I found was a smooth spirit that didn't hit like a harsh liquor; one that would cause you to recoil after taking a shot. I detected a hint of Old Bay and the most pronounced spice was pepper which had more of a tangy than spicy taste.    

"I think a lot of people are surprised it's not too overpowering," Hegamyer said. "A lot of people feel like they're about to get punched in the face by Old Bay, that's what's in their mind. They're really pleasantly surprised to find its a real subtle taste." 

For Hegamyer, the marriage between three Maryland brands including the iconic Old Bay spice was music to his ears.

"Growing up in Maryland as soon as you hear about the opportunity to be a part of something like Old Bay Vodka, you get excited immediately," Hegamyer said. "A lot of what [McCormick does] fits in with what we do with the [Chesapeake] Bay restoration. They're really passionate about giving back to the Bay that gives so much to Marylanders."  

Old Bay Vodka was awarded the Double Gold Medal in the 2022 San Francisco World Spirits Competition. The Double Gold Medal is awarded to entries that receive Gold Medal ratings from all 34 members of the judging panel who are well-established spirits industry experts.

The San Francisco World Spirits Competition is a prestigious and international event, according to a news release.

"This is validation of the teams' hard work and passion to bring a great spirit to life to share with the public. The perfect partnership between GEORGE'S BEVERAGE COMPANY, OLD BAY, a brand of McCormick & Company, Inc., and McClintock Distilling – all Maryland based, paved the way to this success," David said in a statement.

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