Crafting great distilled spirits is no accident. It takes experience, patience and passion. The same thing can be said for creating a great distillery visitor experience. It doesn’t happen by accident, it takes all of those things and someone that can weave them together into an great story. Such is the case with the recently opened Sagamore Spirit Distillery that sits on the banks of the Patapsco River in Baltimore, Maryland.
The Story is the Thing
The people behind the Sagamore Spirit brand understand the importance of storytelling. Whether you are reviving an old brand or creating a new one they understood from the beginning that they had to have a great story to engage their visitors.
To help tell their story, “Sagamore Spirit commissioned Solid Light to design and create a unique and memorable experience at the distillery that would inspire all of our guests,” said Brian Treacy, President of Sagamore Spirit. “The team understood what we were trying to accomplish and helped us bring the Sagamore Spirit brand to life, as well as sharing Maryland’s rich distilling history.”
We recently sat down with Solid Light Owner and President Cynthia Torp to learn how the Sagamore Spirit Distillery experience came to light. In the simplest of terms, Solid Light builds visitor experiences that engage and inspire guests. Their resume includes projects like the Evan Williams Bourbon Experience in Louisville, Ky, the Maker’s Mark Distillery in Loretto, Ky as well as the American Civil War Museum in Richmond, VA and the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi.
“The story is the thing,” said Cynthia. Once you have the story, all the pieces need to fit within the story to build that unique visitor experience.
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It Starts with a Discovery Workshop
“We start every project with a creative workshop with the stakeholder which includes the architects. We sit down and say what’s important to you.
- What are the goals?
- Who are you trying to reach, what audiences do you want to draw?
- What are the key stories you want to tell?
- What are the major takeaways you want your visitors to retain?
It’s all about the story and connecting a visitor to a client’s message whatever it is. It all depends what the message is but, we want to help the visitor actually understand it, feel it and care about it. You have to be able to connect emotionally with people. And when you have a story at the base that’s an actual authentic real story and you have people who are passionate about what they are doing, it makes easier.”
From those discovery meetings, the Sagamore Spirit Distillery brand story was built on the following five themes.
Sagamore Spirit – The heritage of Sagamore Farm and the spirit of thoroughbred racing—from Native Dancer to Shared Account—flow from our landmark Sagamore springhouse, the source of Sagamore Rye spring fed water.
Our Process – Sagamore Spirit uses a unique process—high quality ingredients, triple distilling and Sagamore Spring water—to craft an Authentic Maryland rye whiskey.
Sagamore Spring Water – Pure limestone-filtered spring water, which flows in abundance at Sagamore Farm is so essential to our Sagamore Rye whiskey, we drive it 22 miles all the way from the farm to the distillery.
Authentic Maryland – Rye whiskey is an authentic Maryland story, and Sagamore Spirit Rye re-energizes that narrative with the rebirth of an authentic American whiskey.
A New Brand – Sagamore Spirit is a bold new brand that melds hospitality, an authentic heritage, and—above all—unmatched quality.
As a visitor walks through the distillery, every step can be connected to one of these five themes.
Blending the Historical with the Contemporary
“Creating a space that looks the part isn’t enough. To truly have an impact on visitors, we needed to share stories of the people of Maryland’s past. Our research team went to Maryland, found historical documents and images, and spoke with historians to understand what distilling in Maryland looked and felt like in its heyday. We used the findings of our original research to create interpretive graphics and interactive media elements, including a digital map of Maryland and Baltimore distilling throughout history. By blending the historical with the contemporary, we were able to tell the stories of Baltimore’s distilling pioneers in a way that resonates with today’s audiences.”
The research found that in 1910 there were 44 distilleries operating in Maryland, 21 of which were in downtown Baltimore. It also lead them to the discovery that prior to Prohibition Maryland was the third leading distiller of whiskey in the U.S. behind Kentucky and Pennsylvania, and at one point led the nation in rye whiskey production.
These stories are told throughout the visitor center on multiple “digital posters.” There are several digital screens throughout the visitor center displaying photos and videos about Sagamore Spirit, Sagamore Farm and historical images of Maryland’s distilling past. The media is so well done that the company has already collected a Telly Award for their efforts.
One of the digital screens (shown above) is actually a large interactive touchscreen that allows visitors to interact with the story. They can explore historical distilleries around the city of Baltimore as well as around the state of Maryland. Not only do these interactive screens help to tell the story but they help to keep guests entertained as they have wait for the next tour.
Experience Pays Off with More Tasting Rooms
“In the case of Sagamore one of the early things that we did was guess they were going to get a lot of visitors. We actually did some sensitivity studies on numbers of visitors and what times of the year they would be heavier or lighter. There was only one (tasting room) when we started. We had to work with the architect to get more tasting rooms. We also added the patio on to the back because they are going to get most of their visitors during the warm weather. Let’s have an outdoor tasting area because look at this view you are going to have. Just look at the water.”
They ended up with three side by side tasting rooms with sliding walls that can easily be converted to a single large room. The outdoor tasting patio is also connected to the tasting rooms.
Cynthia said, “Sagamore Spirit is one of those milestone projects in a career. Everyone felt such passion and enthusiasm for this project, and the more stories we uncovered of Maryland’s history, the more our fascination grew. Helping to bring the Sagamore Spirit brand to life, driving and managing the project, and telling the stories of Baltimore’s distilling pioneers was exciting, challenging and fulfilling. This is spatial storytelling that visitors will remember long after they leave.”
Do you have a great visitor experience you want to contribute? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.