July Greetings from Catoctin Creek - Bespoke Bitters with a Virginia Accent
Telling a Story with Flavor...
This month, I'd like to feature a story from Modern Bar Cart founder Eric Kozlik:
One of our very first retail partners – almost half a decade ago – was Catoctin Creek Distilling Co., based out of beautiful Purcellville, Virginia. They were one of the first craft distilleries in the region, and when tasting room manager Denise Petty and brand rep John Shope asked me to work with them to develop a bitters flavor to pair with their award winning Roundstone Rye, to say I was excited would be a vast understatement.
I rolled into their tasting room on a weekday several months ago, and we all sat down at their horseshoe-shaped bar, nosing and happily tasting that Roundstone Rye, looking for inspiration. But we all realized that the first major hurdle we had to confront was:
How do you build a bitters flavor to accentuate or pay tribute to one particular product? Not an entire category of spirits or a type of cocktail – but one bottle with a unique fingerprint all its own.
Now, I’m sure there’s multiple answers to this question, but because my background is in psychology and creative writing, my solution was to build a flavor by telling a story.
When I interviewed John and Denise about what Roundstone Rye is all about – the answer, in large part, turned out to be: Virginia. Being situated in one of the most beautiful parts of the Virginia countryside, the people who make and sell this beautiful liquid can’t help but be inspired by the sights, smells, and flavors all around them.
So I quizzed them – and we came up with three quintessential Virginia flavors that we really wanted to highlight:
- The first was chicory, which is a flowering member of the dandelion family. We used the root of this plant, which has been used for centuries as a tea or coffee substitute, to provide a savory, slightly bitter backbone for the bitters. Because of the other ingredients in the mix, which I’ll cover in a second, we opted against the roasted variety – which can be fairly intense. Instead, the role that chicory root plays in this product is very similar to the role that many gin distillers say orris root plays in their spirits. It’s a binder, giving a pleasant earthy canvas upon which the other botanicals can dance.
- Next, we entered the world of aroma and nostalgia with the addition of honeysuckle flowers. These long, fluted orange blossoms are heavy with sweetness and evoke warm summer nights sitting on the porch watching fireflies flick on and off in the yard. The aroma of honeysuckle and the flavor are pretty close – and it’s hard to describe, but once you encounter it in the world, it’s a highly perfumed sensation you’ll never forget.
- Finally, as an homage to Virginia, we selected the regal rose, featuring its dried buds and petals in our Roundstone bitters formulation. Although the flowering dogwood is the state flower – and features prominently in the Roundstone logo on the front of the bitters label – The Virginia Rose is a common flower that grows wild in the woods across the region, so we thought it would be fitting to give it a nod in our recipe.
Now, unfortunately, three botanicals does not a bitters make. So although this was a great start, we now needed to decide how we’d ultimately round out the formulation to make it really jive with the Roundstone rye. Because when you think of rye, you don’t really think of pairing with exclusively floral ingredients, so something else needed to come into the fold.
Now, one thing I really love about Roundstone Rye is that it was the rye that turned me onto rye. I was a baby in the world of spirits when I first tried it, and to be honest, I was bracing myself for something dark, spicy, and feisty. Instead, I was greeted with a spirit that was round, affable, and almost fruity, which says a lot about master distiller Becky Harris’s fermentation and distillation methods.
So thinking about this flavor profile and thinking about the most iconic use case for rye – the Manhattan – we decided we needed to get some citrus notes involved in the form of orange, bitter orange, and grapefruit.
After several test batches and in-depth tasting and pairing sessions, where we gradually pipetted the bitters into the rye with more or less dilution, and with the addition of a few other key botanicals, we finally arrived at what we were looking for:
A cocktail bitters with enough bright citrus to make a gorgeous Manhattan, with plenty of quintessentially Virginian ingredients, and most importantly, something completely unique and completely integrated into the story of the Roundstone Rye.
This is where most collaboration projects fall short, and it’s also where a lot of at-home consumers don’t have the resources to commit to ingredient sourcing, concept development, and iteration. That’s why you get a lot of great fruit, vegetable, and berry-driven bitters coming out of the home garden, herb garden, or fruit tree, but these tend to be extremely seasonal and hard to replicate.
So if you’re a home bitters maker, I hope these Roundstone bitters inspire you to go down all the rabbit holes and really think about the greater story that your creations tell through their flavor profiles.
Daily Beast - What music embodies rye whiskey?
Photograph by Atlantic Records, used under license, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=45577655.
The Daily Beast asked rye distillers around the country to tell us what their spirits taste like by comparing them to music. Of the various responses, most were by men choosing artists who are also men. That is what it's like being a woman in a man's whiskey world. Becky Harris, our founder and distiller (and my wife), mixed it up a little bit, and I think Becky nails it here:
Whiskey, like music, is primarily viewed through a male lens, and I wanted to shout one out for the ladies. Doreen St. Felix wrote about Missy Elliott in the New Yorker, ‘hip-hop artists are musicologists, and sampling is one way histories are folded into the present.’ Like Elliott, another Commonwealth native, we pull influences from all corners and filter them through our Virginia mindset. We take the rye of the past, and... flip it, and reverse it. Catoctin Creek created a new aesthetic for rye: toggling between chill, fruity, and bold spice.
You can read the full story, here.
Día de los Muertos Release, July 6
The Day of the Dead comes early this year! This whisky was made in collaboration with Adroit Theory Brewing Company, the mad geniuses of the local beer world! Aged at 4.6+ years old, this beer started with Adroit's famous Russian Imperial Stout, which we distilled and aged for over four years. The resulting whisky is full-bodied, rich, overflowing with notes of caramel, rich malt, chocolate, and honey-rubbed leather. It is simply incredible! Due to the terrible "angel's share" in Virginia, there was a ton of evaporation on this spirit in the barrel. The good news is that means that the resulting alcohol is super-concentrated and especially delicious. The bad news is that we have less to sell. ONLY 147 BOTTLES AVAILABLE! Each bottle comes with a custom-made cedar gift box, and is priced at $159.99. Available in our tasting room only! Limit one bottle per customer. We seriously recommend lining up for this one. It will sell out in the first hour. Becky Harris (chief distiller) and Mark Osborne (founder, Adroit Theory) will be present to sign bottles and chat.
Members of the Rye Society may call us to obtain their bottle before the release date. If you're interested in joining the Rye Society, subscribe on the button below.
We have some great events in May. 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:
- Jul 6 - Día de los Muertos Release - See article above. One day only! This special release won't last.
- Jul 13 - Bottling Workshop - Always free, always fun, and a great way to see behind the scenes at the distillery. FREE!
- Sept 20 - Dinner at the Distillery - Join us for our spring dinner at the distillery. $99/pp
For the full list of events, check our events page.
Cocktail of the Month – Sunshine & Spice & Lemon on Ice
This cocktail is re-posted from @bitbyafox on Instagram. Prairie Rose writes:
On Monday, I did a live tasting of @catoctincreek’s Distiller’s Edition 92 Proof Rye Whisky. And I’ve been playing around with it ever since (as you can tell from this half empty bottle!) Because of its higher proof, I love that it can stand up to a lot of different kinds of ingredients. Like Galliano Liqueur and lemon curd, for instance! I wanted to highlight the bright lemon zest in this rye, and lean into the warmer weather with a sunshiny cocktail recipe. Stay tuned for my interview with@catoctincreek founder @scohar70 on the #bitbyafoxpodcast tomorrow!
2 oz Catoctin Creek Distiller’s Reserve Rye Whisky
3/4 oz fresh squeezed lemon juice
3/4 oz Galliano Liqueur
1 tablespoon of lemon curd
🍒 🍋 garnish
Add all ingredients to a shaker and fill with ice. Shake until well chilled. Strain into an ice-filled rocks glass. Garnish.
Recipe and photo courtesy Bit by a Fox and used with permission.
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