The mid-Atlantic has recently come into its own in terms of winemaking, and the DC-area in particular has seen a resurgence in brewing, but (legal) distilling has been somewhat slower to follow. However, as consumer tastes have migrated away from mass-produced libations, more and more micro-distilleries have been established in the area.
Although I am an avid drinker of spirits, especially bourbon, I had never gotten the chance to actually tour a distillery. As such, I was excited for an impromptu road trip to Virginia horse country to check out the recently-opened (compared to most major distillers) Catoctin Creek Distillery.
Less than an hour from DC in Purcellville, Virginia, Catoctin Creek Distillery is located in an unassuming industrial park that belies the impressive nature of its tenant. Founded in 2008, Catoctin Creek produces three spirits: an unaged (or “white”) rye, an aged rye, and a rye-based gin. All three are produced using 100% organic rye sourced from Kansas. Even though the distillery does not use local grain, due to the climate in Virginia necessitating non-organic techniques, they do locally source the herbs for their gin and fruit for their brandy.
The sampling provides tastes of all three of Catoctin Creek’s spirits. The unaged whiskey, “Mosby’s Spirit,” which is thankfully cut to 80 proof by the distillery, has won numerous awards and has been highly rated by a number of publications. Sweet upfront with citrus and vanilla notes, the clear quaff finishes with a hard pepper kick that lingers on the back of the tongue. The aged version, “Roundstone Rye,” has a similar flavor profile, but benefits from five months in white oak barrels adding a bit of body and caramel flavor. In addition to the barrel-aging, Catoctin Creek also adds bags of white oak chips to their whiskey while it ages, enhancing the flavor.
The surprise of the trip, for me at least, was the gin. Normally, I am not a huge fan of gin, but the secret recipe of herbals that Catoctin Creek uses is definitely different than traditional London dry gin. Instead of thinking I was drinking a pine tree, the Catoctin gin was much more complex and had distinct notes of fresh grass and cinnamon, in addition to the usual juniper. At 100 proof, this liquor is perfectly suited for mixing, and I look forward to securing a bottle for making some gin and tonics.
Catoctin Creek has flourished in the first few years of its existence, benefiting from a renewed interest in handcrafted spirits in general, and whiskey/rye in particular. After completing production runs of 10,000 and 20,000 cases in 2009 and 2010, respectively, the distiller expects to ship over 30,000 cases of booze nationwide this year, maxing out the capacity of their still.
Catoctin Creek Distillery is located at 37251 East Richardson Lane, Purcellville, VA. To get the from the DC area, take Route 7 towards Leesburg, then follow the Route 7 bypass around the city to the exit for VA-287, left on Berlin Pike, right on Hirst Rd, right onto VA-611, left onto E Nichlos Ln, and finally right onto E Richardson Ln. Tastings are available from 12-1pm on weekdays and 11am-12pm and 2-3pm on Saturdays. Call ahead for tasting reservations: 540-751-8404. Web: www.catoctincreek.com Twitter: @catoctincreek