How do we show our Virginia Spirit?
Authors: Becky & Scott Harris, Distiller and Owners for Catoctin Creek Distillery
There are a lot of craft whiskies on the market today, and you may ask, “What’s so special about Catoctin Creek? What makes us different?” Allow our founder Scott Harris to explain.
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye is an exceptional single-barrel Virginia whisky, faithfully reproduced using 19th century methods. Our goal in creating Roundstone Rye was to accurately capture what rye whisky tasted like from Virginia in the 1800s. We start with fresh, organic, 100% rye grain sourced locally. Why organic? Because organic grain is not only cleaner, giving a better taste with no harsh chemicals like pesticides, but it is also more historically accurate. The world didn’t have industrial fungicides and pesticides in the 1800s, and we didn’t want those flavors coming through in our whisky.
Our organic rye grain is mashed in small 300 gallon batches, and then fermented at room temperature—again for historical accuracy. In the “old days,” distillers would not have had super-efficient, glycol-chilled jacketed fermenters. While it is true that modern fermenters can squeeze every drop of alcohol out of a potent potable, we’re not looking for efficiency. We’re looking for flavor and historical authenticity. Higher levels of alcohol in our mash would dilute the flavor of the native grain.
The next step is the distillation, and again, we use old-fashioned pot stills and cook for over nine hours during the distillation. You can think of it in terms of a coffee analogy. Most American whisky made today is made on a column still, where you have steam in contact with the mash or wash for about five minutes, where the extraction of the flavor occurs—congeners (that is, flavor molecules) are pulled out with the steam and captured in the condenser. This is like a drip coffee, where the hot water passes over the coffee grounds for a very short time. In a pot still, the grains cook in the pot with the alcoholic vapors for the entire batch distillation time, over nine hours. Therefore, we get a lot more of the flavor compounds (congeners) with each distillation, yielding a super-flavorful raw spirit. Continuing that coffee analogy, this is like a french-press, where the grounds are steeping in the coffee during the entire brew time.
After distillation, we age in new white oak barrels, which is the fourth step in making this gorgeous whisky. The Virginia climate is the big factor here, and in Virginia, we are blessed with hot summers, cold winters, and crazy fluctuations during spring and autumn—all of which drives that whisky in and out of the wood extracting amazing flavor from the barrel.
We bottle at either 80 or 92 proof, never chill filtering, so that we can preserve that delicious flavor, just as it was in the barrel.
At Catoctin Creek, we are proud to be obstinately inefficient! Our true craft, inspired by tradition, is how we show our Virginia spirit.