Enjoyed a fantastic tour of Catoctin Creek Distillery on Saturday, August 20th, 2011 when the DC Whiskey Drinkers (Facebook) had our private tour with Scott Harris and his team. Let me just say first, that for a City Slicker (I live in Georgetown) the area around Purcellville, VA is so relaxing and bucolic that I could feel all my tension fading away even before I came to the Distillery’s door. Catoctin Creek is located in an industrial park, but it’s a pretty quaint low-industrial area, and it’s pretty much smack in the middle of the woods! Also, I was relieved to find that my GPS took right to the front door, something that rarely happens this far out.
I didn’t realize it until I got there, but the Distillery is a pretty popular place on weekends, and the fact that we nabbed a private tour through the owner made a big difference – after our group of about 15 left, a mob of 50 or more thirsty whiskey lovers filled the tasting room and warehouse and we felt lucky to have had the privilege! Here’s a photo of the whiskey’s we tasted – note that there is already a plan to change the labels.
Catoctin Creek Distillery is currently producing 3 spirits – Mosby’s Spirits, Roundstone Rye and Watershed Gin – as well as Pearousia Pear Brandy. Mosby’s is an organic (actually, all of Catoctin Creek’s spirits are organic – this is why Scott is constantly forced to search for organic rye growers throughout the U.S.) unaged white spirit – but the rye definitely comes through with both a sweet and almost earthy best I can describe it as hot pepper and clay flavor that really awakens the senses – THIS is what Vodka only hopes to be! The Roundstone Rye is ages 4 month in new oak and is a mellower more rounded version of the Mosby, with just enough caramel/brown sugar from the oak to make this a great sipping whiskey. The Gin is botanical with more of a citrus, orange fruit component and less herby than many, which lends well to mixing with more fruit concentrated drinks to match. I didn’t try the Pearousia – oh well, there’s always another day..
Without going into too much detail about the process of making whiskey (Distilling 101 – another class, another day..) Scott takes the rye and turns it into a beer of sorts, also called the “Wort” – basically beer without hops and a Distiller’s Yeast vs Brewer’s Yeast fermented to approximately 10% alcohol before it’s put into the still and converted into spirit. The middle photo is the Wort in the still, the photo to the right of that is actually before that during the fermentation into beer. Some interesting side notes: Virginia doesn’t produce much organic rye grain, so Scott has to go elsewhere to get it (he wants to be truly local, but alas..)..while distilling the Wort, a percentage of the first distillation called the “heads” is unusable because it’s poisonous – the ratios Scott gave are 100 gallons of beer distill into 10 gallons of spirit of which about 1/2 gallon of that is lost as the undrinkable “heads”. Scott distills to about 170 Proof (85% alcohol) and cuts it to around 90 Proof. When he makes the brown rye aged spirit, he ages in new charred oak barrels for 4 months – 10 lbs. of spirit is absorbed by the wood and is lost (spirits are about 7 lbs. to a gallon, so he loses another 1 gallon and change – rather than throw out these barrels, he sells them to breweries (like DCBrau – DC’s first Brewery in almost 60 years!)
On the left is the Kothe Still – it’s sort of a combo pot and continuous still, and is one of the reasons that American Micro-Distilling is growing at such a rapid pace. Our group really enjoyed the tour – so much so, that one of our group purchased 2 cases..I’ll need to visit them soon! If you’re interested in tasting Catoctin Creek’s products, definitely take the weekend tour – but you can also find many of their spirits in stores throughout the Washington, D.C. region. Catoctin Creek is also the only distillery we have pouring with 34 breweries at MAC Brew Fest – DC’s Own Beer Festival on Saturday, October 15th, 2011 – if you’re planning to visit DC, check it out – Cheers!