Our latest find lead us to Catoctin Creek Distilling Company located in Purcellville. Just an hour northwest from Washington D.C., husband and wife, Scott and Rebecca Harris, back in 2009 opened up the first distillery in Loudoun County since Prohibition. Catoctin Creek is currently located in an industrial park and is set to open a brand new 1,000 square foot tasting room in the historic Case Building on Main Street in downtown Purcellville later this July. The new state-of-the-art facility will be equipped with solar panels to use clean energy, showing again Scott and Rebecca's continued commitment to sustainable practices. Follow them on Facebook to see the progress of the new building!
We met with Scott last week one evening, who kindly took the time to walk us through the distillery and every step of the whisky-making process. When you first walk into their current facility, you can't help to notice the nice smell of rye flour in the air; it kind of reminds you of an old European bakery in southern France. In the back room where all the operation takes place is a gleaming 400 liter custom-made copper still and condenser, stacked barrels and fermenters. The new facility will host a new copper still, adding to their current still and thereby expanding the capacity of the distillery.
Scott first began by giving us a peek into one of the fermenters and to quote his great description, "the grain looks like oatmeal and smells like beer." He then took us through every detail of the spirit production process. To make their whisky mash, they pour about 700 lbs. of organic rye flour into boiling water and let it cook for about 3 hours, activating the malt enzymes and converting the grain starches into fermentable sugars. After this sugar rich solution ('wort') is cooled down, the yeast is added to convert it to ethanol (alcohol) and carbon dioxide. The process takes about a week in the fermenters. The result is a nice Belgian Ale beer smoothie at this point! Next is the process of distillation in the copper still, where the ethanol is separated from the fermented wort. The first drips are referred to as the "heads," which Catoctin Creek uses as a concentrated cleaner, as it contains methanol and other flavors that you do not want in the spirits. The good stuff, the "hearts," then follow and are used to make the unaged and aged rye whiskys. Finally, the bitter end "tails" follow, which are redistilled by the distillery and used to make their Watershed Gin. The complete whisky-making process, we would have to say, was quite amazing and educative. What is really impressive about this microdistillery is its zero waste production. From the organic rye flour to the left over tails emptied out into farm fields, there is no waste! To top it all, all liqueurs at Catoctin Creek are hand labelled and bottled!
Catoctin Creek was recently awarded the "Virginia's Finest" designation for its flagship line of handcrafted spirits and liqueurs. Among many other awards, the distillery was awarded the 2012 Small Business of the Year award in Loudoun County and was named a Silver-level certified green business and awarded the Innovation Award in the 2011 Green Business Challenge. The certified organic and kosher microdistillery produces three high quality, small-batch spirits from grain: an unaged rye whisky (“Mosby’s Spirit”), an aged rye (“Roundstone Rye”), and a rye-based gin ("Watershed Gin"). All three are produced using 100% certified organic rye, free of pesticides and chemical additives. Catoctin Creek also uses locally sourced herbs for their gin, locally grown Virginia grapes and locally grown fruits for their seasonal brandies. Their most popular spirit, the Roundstone Rye, is made by aging their multiple award winning Mosby's Spirit white whisky in new Minnesota white oak, giving it, as Catoctin Creek says, a "delicious woody taste, with notes of caramel, rich butter toffee and just a hint of lemon in the nose." It received a Gold seal at the Good Food Awards in 2013 for creating, "something exceptionally delicious that also supports sustainability and social good."
In addition to their whisky and gin, they also produce three seasonal brandies: 1757 Virginia Brandy, Pearousia, and Short Hill Mountain Peach Brandy. Catoctin creek 1757 Virginia Brandy is made from the finest locally grown Virginia wine grapes. It is distilled and aged in French Bordeaux oak barrels for at least two years. Their limited release local pear brandy is made from Fabbioli Cellars' lovely pear wine, distilled and aged in oak. The pear brandy, as Catoctin Creek describes it, "maintains the fresh aroma of the fruit, where you can smell the light and musky elements of pear intertwined with the caramel and vanilla of the oak." Their peach brandy is made from western Loudoun County peaches and is also a limited-release liqueur.
During the week, visitors can see the microdistillery in production. Tours run every day starting at 10 a.m. during the week and noon on Saturdays. Guests will get a chance to learn more about the spirit production process, from fermentation to distillation to aging and bottling. Tours start at the top of every hour, last about half an hour and cost $5 per person. Tastings follow the tour and per Virginia law are free and are limited to three 0.5 oz pours of Catoctin main spirits. Products are also available for purchase at the distillery!