September #VaSpiritsMonth: Catoctin Creek Distillery

Photo credit: Kristen Dill

Photo credit: Kristen Dill

by: Amy Ciarametaro

Founded in 2009, Catoctin Creek is Loudoun County’s first legal distillery since prior to Prohibition, producing both organic and kosher spirits entirely from scratch. Scott Harris is the enthusiastic co-founder/general manager and husband to Becky Harris, chief distiller for Catoctin Creek.

Virginia is the birthplace of American spirits, and this dynamic duo faithfully dedicates themselves to keeping with this tradition by producing Virginia’s most awarded whisky today—Roundstone Rye (rye being the hardest of all whiskies to produce). Their slogan is “Sic Semper Secales” meaning “Thus always to rye!” – is a play on the Latin motto “Sic Semper Tyrannis” – “Thus Always to Tyrants” from the Virginia state seal.

Scott and Becky Harris / Photo credit: Kristen Dill

Scott and Becky Harris / Photo credit: Kristen Dill

Becky’s vita includes experience in manufacturing control; she also has a Chemical Engineering degree, making her a natural fit for the role of chief distiller. Scott manages the business, having spent over 20 years as a computer engineer and government contractor, or as he jokingly says is why he likes to drink.

During a recent visit I witnessed firsthand how Becky and Scott produce their rye whisky – it’s an impressive process to say the least. They start out by heating up their Kothe German pot stills, each with multiple-plate mini columns, allowing them to distill their rye whisky in one single run from mash to the finished spirit. There’s no stripping runs or finishing runs needed. After the “heads” (most volatile fractions resulting from lower boiling points, such as methanol) are removed, they are recycled and used as cleaning products for the distillery.

Catoctin Creek's Kothe stills "Ron Swanson" and "Barney" / Photo credit: David Buchanan

Catoctin Creek’s Kothe stills “Ron Swanson” and “Barney” / Photo credit: David Buchanan

As they continue, it takes about six hours for the hearts to be processed from the run. Becky and Scott regularly taste the “new make” spirit as it comes off the still. They prefer for their new make rye whisky to be clean and bright when coming off the stills, so they monitor and taste it frequently throughout each run. If there’s any bitterness, they’ll adjust the cooling system as necessary to pull back the amount of fusel oils and other byproducts coming through. In small doses, these byproducts can add finesse, weight and complexity, though at higher levels can add bitterness and off characteristics.

catocton-creek-still-shot_a

New make spirits coming off the still / Photo credit: David Buchanan

Essentially all of Scott and Becky’s spirits are ushered through their system in this manner, where science gives way to the artistry. The tails (bitter congeners) are then collected separately, and reprocessed and re-distilled into their smaller Kothe still where approximately 90% of the ethanol is recovered. Though this ethanol has much less flavor than what was pulled from the whisky run, it does make for a very nice base for gin, which is infused with approximately 10 different botanicals and herbs. From one single rye run, they have made their cleaning chemicals, their whisky (or moonshine if it’s not barrel-aged), and their gin. Remaining byproduct is donated as cattle feed to local farmers. Zero waste production! That’s impressive!

In addition to producing whisky (aged or unaged if it’s a white whisky), and gin, Catoctin Creek also distills various types of fruit brandies in an almost identical manner to their whisky production, dependent on the availability of local fruits. The brandies are aged in French Bordeaux barrels, akin to Cognacs or Armagnacs, and the whiskies are aged in Minnesota white oak barrels.

Photo credit: Catoctin Creek

Catoctin Creek fruit brandies / Photo credit: Catoctin Creek

Stop of by Catoctin Creek and meet Scott and Becky; and learn more about the process of producing high quality local spirits for yourself. You can also find Catoctin Creek products at ABC Stores and restaurants throughout the Commonwealth, in the Washington, D.C., market, Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee, Georgia, Pennsylvania, New York, Massachusetts, Wyoming, Idaho and California. Their spirits are also available internationally! For more information on where to buy Catoctin Creek products, click HERE.


Products Currently Available from Catoctin Creek Distillery

Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye: Their 100% rye spirit is aged in new Minnesota white oak casks for a period of just under two years. The hardest of all whiskeys to produce, rye whisky is an old-time favorite that is new once again. It has a delicious woody taste with notes of caramel, rich butter toffee, and just a hint of lemon on the nose. Awarded silver medals at the 2011 American Distilling Institute Whiskey Competition, the 2010 New York International Spirits Competition and the Beverage Testing Institute, Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye is one of the few organic whiskeys in the entire world. Roundstone Rye is a superb sipping whisky, a great mixer in Manhattans, or any recipe calling for Canadian or rye whisky. Delicious mixed, on the rocks, or neat.

Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye – 92 Proof: This whisky is the culmination of several years of planning. “For a few years now, we’ve been putting whisky away for storage,” remarked Becky Harris. “We pulled some of the more interesting barrels from the back of the barn and decided to release these at a higher proof: a whisky specially curated for flavor, while still being remarkably smooth, as is our existing 80 proof Roundstone.” Think of it as a “Distiller’s Reserve” version of Roundstone Rye. Only one in every ten barrels gets selected to be in the Roundstone Rye 92 Proof whisky.

Catoctin Creek Organic Roundstone Rye – Cask Proof: The cask proof version of the ever-popular Roundstone Rye is a very special expression. Released at approximately 58% ABV (it varies depending on the individual barrels), this is seriously strong whisky! Delicious, dark, complex and ridiculously smooth for the proof, Roundstone Rye Cask Proof is released only about twice per year.

Catoctin Creek Organic Rabble Rouser Straight Rye Whisky: Rabble Rouser is the latest rye whisky offering from Catoctin Creek. Distilled from 100% rye, the Rabble Rouser differs from its cousin, Roundstone Rye, in that it is distilled at a lower proof, allowing lots of earthy goodness from the grain to come through in the spirit. The whisky is aged for four years, making it among the oldest craft whiskey in the United States presently, and twice the legal age requirement for “straight rye whiskey.”

Catoctin Creek Organic Mosby’s Spirit: Catoctin Creek Organic Mosby’s Spirit is a multiple award-winning, delicious rye “white whisky”, with a velvety smooth, sweet and undeniably pleasing cereal taste with floral notes and citrus. If it were aged, it’d be Roundstone Rye whisky. But unaged, it is just as heavenly. Mosby’s Spirit is incredibly versatile as a mixer, giving a new grainy sweetness to traditional vodka or rum cocktails. It can also be used in many recipes calling for whisky. Mix a little in with some fresh-squeezed lemonade for a cool summer treat. Honestly, the possibilities are endless.

Catoctin Creek Organic Watershed Gin: Distilled from organic rye grain, with a secret recipe of organic herbs and spices, Catoctin Creek Organic Watershed Gin is unlike any gin you’ve tried. Amazingly complex, with a rye base that shines through subtle citrus and cinnamon notes, essences of fresh cut hay, and of course a crisp juniper character. Together, they make Watershed Gin a fine cocktail mixer.

Catoctin Creek 1757 Virginia Brandy: Virginia’s first commercial grape brandy since the establishment of the Commonwealth. Made from the finest locally-grown Virginia wine grapes, it is distilled and aged in premium French Bordeaux oak barrels for at least two years. Catoctin Creek Brandy is a fine sipping brandy, unlike run-of-the-mill brandy on the shelves today.

Catoctin Creek Fruit Brandies: Catoctin Creek proudly presents a family of fruit brandies made in the tradition of European fruit brandy. Each is made from 100% local fruit; sourcing from the various farms and orchards in the state, and often from Loudoun County. The fruit is pressed to juice, then fermented to a wine or hard cider. Catoctin Creek Fruit Brandies include:
• Catoctin Creek Pearousia Pear Brandy
• Catoctin Creek Short Hill Mountain Peach Brandy
• Catoctin Creek Quarter Branch Apple Brandy

After fermentation, the fruit wine is then distilled in small batches in our copper pot stills, and subsequently aged in white oak casks for a period between one and four years, depending on the individual fruit. These brandies are the pure essence of the fruit, lightly aged in oak for a warm vanilla tinge to the beautifully captured quality of the fresh farm fruit. Think of them as the equivalent of Cognac or Calvados, but made from local fruit. They are not “fruit-flavored brandies,” which are usually made using a base grape spirit, and flavored with extracts and artificial flavorings.

Special Releases and Experimental Offerings from Catoctin Creek Distillery:
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof “Maple Finished”: Cask proof Roundstone Rye finished in a Langdon Wood maple syrup barrel.
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof “Peach Brandy Finished”: Cask proof Roundstone Rye finished in one of peach brandy barrels; it is extremely limited (only 30 cases produced)!
Old Tom Style “Pearousia Barrel” Watershed Gin: The classic Watershed Gin, which is aged in a Pearousia pear brandy barrel, and then bottled with 10% sugar.
Single Cask Nation Catoctin Creek 2-Year-Old: Perhaps the best whisky Catoctin Creek has ever produced, a distillery in Scotland guessed that it was an 11-year-old whisky.
Single Cask Nation Catoctin Creek 3-Year-Old: Aged in white wine casks and kissed by new oak, this is the oldest whisky Catoctin Creek has released to date.
Roundstone Rye Cask Proof “Brandy Finished”: Their ever-popular cask proof Roundstone Rye, but finished in a Catoctin Creek 1757 Virginia Brandy barrel.
Kings Mountain American Malt Whisky: A collaboration with Heritage Brewing Company to produce their first malt whisky.


For more information on Catoctin Creek Distillery, visit their website or follow them on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter

Photo credit: Kristen Dill, David Buchanan, Firefly Imageworks and Catoctin Creek