Happy February! Catoctin Creek celebrates 10 years!
At Catoctin Creek, we've always been about family. Family comes first, even when Dad was a little fixated on "wiskey".
This drawing is from our dear son, Luke, now grown and in college. When in 2nd grade, he was tasked with drawing a family portrait: Mom, Eddie, Luke, Frank the pug, and even the various hamsters and pet rats are all present for the portrait, but center stage was Dad and his ridiculous whiskey obsession.
Luke's teacher at the time was somewhat reluctant to display this in her class until Becky assured her there was no family shame in our little "whiskey thing."
10 years later! What started as a family company, has only grown bigger today. And here we are in 2019...
Here's to 10, and many, many more!
Cheers! 🥃 🥃 🥃
Celebrating Our Tenth Anniversary
On March 23rd, we will host the "CatocTEN Creek's Southern Anniversary Soirée" from 7pm to 10pm at the distillery! Join us for live music, food, drinks, and a special Q&A with owner and founder, Scott Harris. We will dance and party all night and enjoy wonderful drinks made with our usual care for local ingredients and craftsmanship! Don't miss it! Click here.
Rabble Rouser - February 16th!
We have begun seeing some of the sneak-preview reviews of our forthcoming Rabble Rouser Bottled In Bond Rye Whisky Release. Graham Averill, writing for Paste, gives us stunning marks on the new dram:
"Rabble Rouser doesn’t need any fancy stamp to be great, though. It just is. The 100% rye is aged for four years and bottled at 100 proof. It pours a deep mahogany and has an incredibly enticing nose full of cherries and toasted marshmallows. There’s nothing but rye in the bottle, so you’ve got plenty of spice to contend with, with notes of pepper and ash, but also a hell of a lot of caramel, like from the center of your favorite candy bar. There’s some stone fruit in there, maybe some figs and something nutty, like cashews. A layer of heat underscores all of it so you realize you’re drinking a relatively high-proof rye."
Also on February 16th - 1757 XO Brandy
On the same day we release our Rabble Rouser, we will have a small number of bottles of our 1757 Bottled In Bond XO Brandy. This is very special stuff, the oldest thing we've ever released to day. The brandy is made from a 50-50 blend of Seyval blanc and Chambourcin grapes from Tarara Vineyards, distilled by us, and then aged in Bordeaux barrels for 8 years. It is delicate and has the flavor of raisins, currants, bread pudding, and rich warm vanilla toffee. We're really proud of this one, and it will not last either! This will be a one time only release. Remember: February 16 at noon!
Reddit AMA (Ask Me Anything) with Scott Harris
A couple bourbon drinking groups on Reddit recently asked us to do an "Ask Me Anything" about what it takes to become a global brand. There were some really great questions, and they provide insight into the difficult job of creating and running a distillery. Here is an excerpt of the questions, for your enjoyment:
Can you explain why you only make rye?
Great question. When we started this company, 10 years ago, we were digging into the history of whiskey in Virginia. As many know today, Virginia is the birthplace of American whiskey. Prior to the Revolutionary War, all landowning Americans (i.e. all free people) were Britons, and as a result of trade between the UK, the Caribbean, and the Colonies (that’s us), RUM was the #1 spirit of choice, and produced on an industrial scale.
However, after the Revolutionary War, the Brits got pissed off with us for having a war with them, and cut off the supply of sugar and rum. Americans had to turn inward for their spirit needs, and at that time, we had lots and lots of arable land, and lots of Scots-Irish immigrants. Serious efforts to produce rye whiskey took off. Rye was a grain that grew really well in the northern colonies (VA, MD, PA, NY and on up into Quebec), and could produce a couple crops per year. It didn’t take long for rye whiskey to take off as America’s first whiskey. Most people don’t know that George Washington, at Mount Vernon, was the largest commercial distiller in his lifetime, producing mostly rye whiskey.
Becky and I tested other grains, but fell in love with rye for this history, it’s taste, and the unique place it had in the marketplace when we started 10 years ago. (There was little rye on the market at that time.) So today, we want to do one thing (rye whiskey) and do it really, really well.
That’s why we make rye whiskey. (We spell it whisky, by the way, because of our own family’s Scottish history.)
What's the single biggest challenge you've had as you've grown?
Cash flow! Whisky is a cash intensive business. As you pay money for grain, barrels, etc., you lay down that whisky in the barn (our name for our aging warehouse), and it is literally money tied up for years. Managing that has been the biggest challenge of our lives. There were dark days where we had to dig into our own pockets (mine and Becky’s personal funds) to come up with money for payroll so our employees could get paid. That really drives home the commitment. You ask yourself, as owners, “Do we really REALLY want to do this?” For us, the answer has been, Yes, and we love what we do.
How has being in Purcellville and VA affected CC?
Purcellville is our home. We live in the town where we work. We are centrally located in the agricultural region of Loudoun County to include grain farms, cattle farms, and wineries. This has been beneficial for delivering spent mash to cattle farmers, getting grain from our farms for making rye, and working with wineries (and now breweries!) on special projects. We love this place, and everything we do is an homage to the geography, the history and the culture of the region. We want people to think as affectionately of “Virginia Whiskey” as they might “Kentucky Bourbon”.
Do the altitude and/or climate present aging/distilling issues?
Yes, absolutely. I’m not sure altitude matters much (we are at sea level essentially), but climate definitely does. First of all, we have super hot summers (near 100 deg F July through August), and super cold winters (10-22 deg F for some periods in January and February), and springs and falls that swing wildly back and forth. It is not uncommon to have one day when it is 77 deg F, and the next day might be 33 deg F. These swings in temperature change the barometric pressure and act to push and pull the whiskey in an out of the barrel like a sponge. That gives us great interaction with the wood during the aging cycle. A couple other points I’ll note: 1) This weather is very similar to Kentucky. 2) We have very high humidity, so on average, our proof DROPS in the barrel. The way I like to think of this is that in a humid environment, the air is “full of water”, so water can’t evaporate easily, but the alcohol does. In a dry climate (when we age indoors in the AC), the proof usually RISES.
The distillation is marginally affected by ambient temperature too. In the winter, the water in the Purcellville water tower is very cold. This means super fast and efficient cooling of the condenser on the still and the heat exchanger on the mash tank (we use tap water for these). In the summer, when the water is around 80 deg F, it takes longer.
How does being a smaller distillery affect the way you do experimentation?
I like to think we are freer to experiment. We don’t have large systems set up to make one product and one product only. So we can try an experimental grain run, play with our still settings (that’s how Rabble Rouser came to be), or collaborate with local breweries to product malt-based whiskeys, like the Dia de los Muertos we did with Adroit Theory a few years back.
If you want to try new grains, finishes, chars, etc., do you have to wait years to see the results? If you use a small batch as an experiment, doesn't it double the time before you get a small product to market?
Yes and no. When we try a new grain, we can tell from the new-make spirit pretty much how it’s going to end up. If the spirit is good, the end result will be good. With barrel finishes, it is more esoteric. There are periods where flavors can “go to sleep” in the barrel, only to blossom years later. We are constantly tasting barrels to find out when they are at their prime before bottling, and then everything we bottle is done as a SINGLE BARREL expression.
Have you found creative solutions or workarounds?
Like I said, for any experimental grain or fruit offering, we can tell if it will be good as new make, and that’s usually good enough to invest in the project. We usually test new farms’ grains in a single grain batch so we can get a measure of the new grain, and then that whiskey expression will be set aside for our Barrel Select program, since it will be a little different. Our Roundstone Rye is a mashbill of four different rye strains from four different farms, giving it a complexity of taste while still being 100% rye.
What trend do you see in whiskey that you hope ends soon and why?
People selling other people’s juice and not acknowledging it. It’s OK to sell that juice, but they should be honest about it and disclaim it.
Also, I’m chuffed that people can enjoy our liquor, but ask, “When will it be older?” Older is not always better. We purposefully produce a 2-4 year whiskey that is grain forward on purpose. If we were to age it older, it would lose the freshness of the grain and just be an oak-bomb. The whiskey we make was decided THE DAY IT WAS DISTILLED how old it would be. We distill it purposefully for that age, and if it is to be older, we distill it differently (like we do with Rabble Rouser). So, I’d like people to enjoy whiskey for its taste, and not be so hung up on meaningless variables like age.
Oh, yeah, and for people to stop being so crazy about Pappy. It’s great whiskey, but the mania in the market is nuts. There are other great wheated bourbons out there (Larceny, Weller, etc.), and I bet in a blind taste test, most people (myself included) couldn’t tell them apart. So why pay $1000 for a bottle?!
Why do you bottle your flagship product at 40% abv?
Honestly, we really like the flavor at 80 proof! Because it is 100% rye, and pot stilled for 9 hrs, we get a lot of richness in that 80 proof dram. It is buttery, fruity, nutty, with a hint of banana, and so, so smooth. We realize that the whiskey nerds out there (many of you may include yourselves in this category), scoff at 80 proof as “Kool-Aid” of whiskey. Fair enough. Which is why we introduced our 92 proof Distiller’s Edition, which came to address the whiskey-aficionado market. We hand select that whiskey from barrels that show a more spicy rye profile (think cloves, cinnamon, black pepper) at a higher proof.
There’s also the CASK PROOF, which is incredible and smooth and rich and just so damn good.
Despite that, our biggest seller BY FAR is the 80 proof, so that’s what the market demands, and that’s why we make it.
If you could start over tomorrow with a clean slate, what would you do differently?
Branding! We had no idea. People buy first with their eyes. We thought that if we just produced the best liquid out there, the label could almost be generic. We were so, so wrong. Branding is super important, and I would have addressed that right from the start.
Everything else, we feel we’ve done pretty well, so I’m really happy with where we are today.
Wow! We have some great events in the coming months. Here is the full list of events planned at the distillery and in the area this month. Many events are free, so be sure to join us for something fun:
- February 1 - Art of the Cocktail - USA - whiskey, Martinez, Sazerac, Old Fashioned, and punch. $35/pp
- February 8 - Art of the Cocktail - Latin America - molasses, limes, agave, cacao, chiles, hibiscus, and coffee. $35/pp
- February 15 - Valentine's Day Dinner - Join us for a delicious dinner in the distillery celebrating Valentine's Day. $125/pp
- February 16 - Rabble and 1757 Release Day - This is the big day! Come get them before they sell out!! FREE TO ATTEND
- February 25 - Battle of the RVA Bartenders - Join Richmond's coolest bartenders for a great cocktail competition. $20/pp
- March 14 - Yoga at the Distillery - Come share our beautiful, peaceful space for a Vinyasa Flow class. $20/pp
- March 23 - Ten Year Anniversary Party - Celebrate 10 years with us with music, drinks, food, and Q&A with Scott. $65/pp
- March 28 - Sip and Paint - Come and paint with us for this fun event! $45/pp
For the full list of events, check our events page.
Cocktail of the Month – Carpenter's Hand
Sultry and supple, this mix of brandy, sherry and honey-sweetened liqueur is delicious any time of year.
[Part of the Art of the Cocktail series, season two.]
2 oz. 1757 Virginia Brandy
1⁄2 oz. Amontillado sherry
1⁄2 oz. Drambuie or saffron honey syrup
Rocks glass, big rock
Shake ingredients together with ice in a shaker, and then strain over a big rock in a rocks glass. Garnish with orange peel.
Recipe courtesy Chris Lane, Lolinda, San Francisco.
See this cocktail and hundreds more on our cocktails page.
As always, there are lots of fun and information on our Instagram, Facebook and Twitter pages, where you can stay up to date with the daily activities at the distillery. We are open every Tuesday through Sunday for tastings and bottle purchases, so stop by and see us sometime!
Scott & Becky