Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Cask Proof Review

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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.

The crown jewel of the Roundstone Rye core range, Catoctin Cask Proof is a bi-annual release of Catoctin Creek’s 100% rye whiskey bottled without filtration and at cask strength. Made from the same mash bill, distillation profile, and new make coming off the still as the rest of the Roundstone rye range, Cask Proof sits at the top of the hierarchy when it comes to which barrels are chosen for this release. According to Scott Harris of Catoctin Creek, approximately 90% of barrels will end up in the 80 proof Roundstone Rye release, about 9% will end up as their Distiller’s Edition 92 proof Roundstone Rye, and only 1% will be chosen to be bottled at Cask Strength. Catoctin bottle all their Roundstone releases as single barrel products so when evaluating barrels for their designated release, Chief Distiller Becky Harris and her team of tasters evaluate each barrel organoleptically (i.e. by color, smell, taste). During this process they sometimes come across a barrel that is so exceptional that they bottle it at cask proof so customers can share the experience of tasting the same whiskey straight from the barrel.

Today I’ll be taking a look at the UK release of Roundstone Cask Proof. Similar to Catoctin’s other whiskies, this is not designated as a straight rye whiskey because Catoctin bottle to profile and not to age due to the smaller barrels they use. Thus by not designating their whiskey as straight they’re afforded flexibility as to what age they bottle.

Vital Stats:

Name: Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whisky Single Barrel Distiller’s Edition Rye
Age: NAS (approx. 3 years old)
Proof: 116 Proof (58% ABV)
Type: Organic Rye Whisky
Mashbill: 100% rye
Producer: Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, VA
Website: https://catoctincreekdistilling.com/
Glassware: Glencairn

Review

Nose: The nose opens with rye grain and dried red fruit alongside baking spice, faint white pepper, and a hint of ethanol burn. As you nose deeper notes of chocolate milk also emerge.

Palate: Very viscous with rye grain notes, caramel notes, tart red fruit, chocolate milk notes, then rye and baking spice notes, deep raisins and cherries note. As the spice fades and you continue to chew more chocolate comes from the barrel alongside the undercurrent of rye heat coming from the grain. The tongue also begins to dry out and more oak comes through.

Finish: Lingering spice and fruity sweetness, rye grain, touch of ethanol, slight touch of green apples, leading into a tannic aftertaste of rye grain and warmth.

Overall

Having now tried the Catoctin Roundstone Rye core range I can see why they hail the Cask Proof as their finest expression. The nose is both soft and complex without any cask proof burn, the palate is both viscous and layered in complex flavours, and the finish is long, flavourful, and warming. Cask Proof builds on the rest of the core range by turning all the flavours from the Distiller’s Edition and the 80 proof up to #10. The rye is once again the star of the show with this release doing the best job of framing it as such. The rest of the flavours come in to support it well with red fruit, tart notes reminiscent of malt, milk chocolate, and more oak tannins than previous releases alongside added flavour intensity, spice intensity, and overall enjoyment. A splash of water brings forth more fruit sweetness and tames the heat whilst also boosting the chocolate notes.

Through their rigorous selection process, Catoctin bottle only the best of the barrels they come across as Cask Proof and this pedigree shines through in the finished product. It’s easy to forget how rare it is to find a single barrel of whiskey that doesn’t have a hole somewhere in its profile. By this I mean there’s too much of one flavour or too little of another making the barrel taste unbalanced and in need of remedying via either proofing down to re-balance the flavours, or from batching with a barrel that has the missing pieces (this is a gross oversimplification of how blending works but anyway!). In this whiskey, Catoctin have not only managed to find a single barrel that has a complete and well-balanced flavour profile (at a very young age I might add!), but it’s also at barrel strength and this is even more rare and difficult I would imagine. These barrels really are the cream of the crop and it further compliments the quality of the distillate and the oak that is used to produce a classic rye whiskey profile that’s this well-rounded, complex, and balanced at barrel proof.

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 can also 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 and the processes behind it.

Try or Buy

Carrying an RRP of £85 ($116) this release enters the market at under £100 and gives fans of Roundstone the unparalleled experience of tasting the whiskey straight from the cask. At this price the competition is tight, however, when you consider the quality and overall drinking experience I would definitely either pick a bottle up- or at the very least do my best to find a sample for sale somewhere. There are very few craft whiskies using small barrels that can compete directly with this release so if craft is your thing and you want something from one of the best producers of small-barrel craft then this is your ticket!

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