The following originally appeared on Food Digital on November 19, 2012:
Virginia’s first distillery since the beginning of Prohibition sits exactly one hour north west of Washington, DC in Loudon county. Owned and run by Becky Harris (a chemical engineer) and Scott Harris (a government IT specialist) Catoctin Creek Distilling Company has quickly outgrown its original home. In 2013 Becky and Scott will relocate their distillery to a 60002 ft property just down the road from their current 20002 ft site. Their new tasting room alone will be half the size of their current operation and suggests that the last three years have seen Catoctin Creek make a significant mark in the American craft distilling scene.
Built on a philosophy of sourcing local, organic ingredients and running small, 100 gallon batches to ensure quality across the line, Becky and Scott completely understand the needs of their custom-made, German built, hybrid pot-column still. The still’s “bubblecaps” increase copper contact with the spirit vapors helping to develop aromas and flavors.
The Roundstone Rye, their best seller, is of particular interest. Comprised of a grain bill that is 100% rye, the mashed grain moves from mash to wash and even remains in the still during distillation. Rye grain is much more sticky than barley and is more likely to end up as a coagulated mess so it ends up being easier to keep it with the liquid throughout the process.
The rye mash cooks for three hours and cools for three hours in order to extract the sugars from the grain. The wort is then fermented for five days to become a 10% alcohol wash. The wash is then double distilled in a 100 gallon batch before being filled into medium charred, 30 gallon Minnesota white oak casks for a couple of years. Roundstone Rye is bottled as two separate releases. The 80 proof single cask, standard bottling and the cask strength, single cask bottling.
Mosby’s Spirit is considered the unaged version of Roundstone Rye but that’s only part of the story. All American craft distillers need to generate profits from day one of distillery ownership. In some cases vodka and gin provide the income to keep the doors open and the electricity flowing while the whiskey ages. In some other cases “white whiskey” is sold to generate income. Often, the unaged spirit does the distillery a disservice because it needs to spend some time in oak to round off the harsh edges of the spirit. Becky and Scott wanted to make a spirit that they could stand behind. Making a different series of “cuts” for the unaged whiskey than they do for the cask matured stock allows a bottled spirit that is clean and drinks very easily. Putting the Mosby’s Spirit in a cask and maturing it for two years would not result in a home version of Roundstone Rye.
In his autobiography, Ben Franklin described a 1757 military campaign of Loudon county’s eponymous former governor as “frivolous, expensive, and disgraceful to our nation beyond conception.” Loudon county is in much safer hands with Becky and Scott Harris, their staff of four, and their recently named Small Business of the Year. Look for them marching across the US from Washington DC, New York, Maryland, and Virginia, through Kentucky, Tennessee, and Wyoming on their way to the west coast and Washington and California!