Situated in Purcellville, Virginia, the Catoctin Creek Distillery opened its doors in 2009 under husband and wife team Becky and Scott Harris. The name “Catoctin” is a regional name (pronounced Ka-TOCK-tin) and derives from the Indian tribal name “Kittocton” which, legend has it, meant “place of many deer.” Famous for their award winning rye whisky, Catoctin’s Chief Distiller Becky Harris uses a mashbill consisting of 100% locally-sourced and organic Virginian rye to produce what Catoctin call ‘The Virginia Rye Whisky’. Their whisky is fermented and distilled ‘on the grain’ through their 400L copper pot still ‘Barney’. Distillation is slow and takes place over 9 hours which Catoctin claim extracts the maximum flavour from the rye grain. After distillation the un-aged spirit is aged in a mix of 30 gallon Minnesota White Oak and Virginia White Oak barrels for approximately 3 years or until it has reached the desired level of maturity.
Initially focusing their attentions exclusively on making rye whisky, Catoctin’s core Roundstone Rye range consists of their flagship pre-Prohibition style 80 proof Roundstone Rye, their 92 proof ‘Distiller’s Edition’, and their cask-strength release. All their whiskies are non-chill filtered to maintain their rye character and bottled as single barrel releases. As well as their Roundstone range, Catoctin also produce Rouble Rouser Bottled-in-Bond Rye, Watershed Gin, Braddock Oak single barrel and red wine cask-finished rye whiskies, 1757 Virginia Brandy, and 1757 Virginia Brandy XO Bottled-in-Bond, as well as a number of fruit brandies, and limited release experimental whiskies and spirits.
Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye 80 proof Single Barrel Rye is the flagship product of the Catoctin Creek Distillery located on the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains in Purcellville, VA. As the first legal distillery in Loudoun County since before Prohibition, Catoctin looked to Virginia’s vibrant rye whisky history for inspiration and settled on producing a pre-prohibition-style 100% rye grain whisky.
According to Catoctin Creek’s Website:
“Roundstone Rye® is a very unique rye whisky, made completely from scratch at our distillery in Purcellville, Virginia. This pre-Prohibition style rye whisky is made from 100% rye grain, sourced locally when available. It is mashed, fermented, distilled and aged completely in our distillery, before bottling it at a very sippable 80 proof. Aged in new charred white oak casks for a period of around two years, the whisky is smooth, woody, with that true grain character achieved in a relatively young whisky.“
Name: Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whisky
Age: NAS (approx 2 years old)
Proof: 80 Proof (40% ABV)
Type: Organic Rye Whisky
Mashbill: 100% Rye
Producer: Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, VA
Nose: The nose opens with rye grain, faint caramel, citrus peel, floral red fruit fading to raisins and cherries, baking spices, and a touch of cloves.
Palate: The palate opens with rye grain, faint toasted almonds, citrus peel, and a kick of rye spice that fades to baking spices, red fruit, barrel spices, and cacao as you continue to chew.
Finish: The finish opens with lingering dry rye spice, herbaceous young oak and baking spices leading into an aftertaste of rye grain and faint young, charred oak.
I’m very impressed with this whisky! It’s often difficult to see past the bias levelled at 80 proof whiskies but even at 80 proof this whisky packs a flavourful punch and drinks hotter than you’d expect. The nose smells like a bakery with stewed cherries, warm rye, baking spices, and raisins – delicious. The palate and finish follow suit with complex and delicious flavours all centred around the dominant note: rye grain. It’s a big bold rye whisky at heart and the grain is the first thing you pick up across the board. Catoctin’s whiskies stand out from other craft rye whiskies because of their careful and interesting production techniques. First, they use a 100% organic un-malted rye in their wash , substituting malt by instead adding 3 enzymes: alpha-amylase to break the starch, glucoamylase to release the sugars, and beta glucanase to thin the final wash. Second, Catoctin never use chill filtration on their rye whiskies – which leaves the fats and esters in the final product, something Catoctin believes is crucial for flavour and mouthfeel. Third, although Catoctin use 30 gallon barrels for ageing their whiskies, they keep a very careful eye on them as they mature to mitigate the effect that this can have on the final flavour profile, predominantly through excessive young and tannic oak notes. As an example of this, although this is aged in small barrels there’s virtually no evidence of this until you reach the finish where that classic green oak note emerges briefly. This is probably Catoctin’s finest achievement when you consider that young craft whiskies aged in smaller barrels are almost universally categorised by the young green oak notes coming from the increased interaction between wood and spirit that happens in smaller barrels. Instead, this whisky showcases the delicate interplay between all the care that goes into producing it through its well-balanced flavour components. The decent helping of rye spice on the palate would also no doubt shine through nicely in a rye-based cocktail such as a Manhattan or Sazerac.
As a craft distiller, Catoctin seem to be doing what a lot of passionate craft distilleries are doing, and then some. In the span of almost 10 years, they’ve bottled their own whisky under multiple expressions (including a bottled in bond expression) and shown their willingness to explore interesting experiments by way of their multiple once-off collaborative releases where unique barrels of rye were finished in all manner of interesting barrels. They have also gone as far as having their whiskies certified as organic, vegan, kosher, and gluten free – which is a first for me and no doubt opens their products to a much wider target audience. From everything I’ve read Catoctin seem really passionate about what they’re doing and how they’re doing it, which was evident in their whisky even before I had taken the time to read up about them.
UK Rye fans go check out Catoctin’s dedicated UK page to do a virtual tasting with Co-founder Scott Harris, a tour of the distillery, and learn everything there is to know about the Roundstone range!
Try or Buy
With an RRP of around £35 you’d be hard pushed to find another craft rye whiskey on the UK market that’s under 2 years old and can compete against this in terms of flavour complexity and distinctiveness…buy buy buy!
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