Situated in Purcellville, Virginia, the Catoctin Creek Distillery opened its doors in 2009 under husband and wife team Becky and Scott Harris. Initially focusing their attentions exclusively on making rye whisky, Catoctin have since created multiple expressions of their flagship Roundstone Rye whisky and hold claim to the title of Virignia’s Most Awarded Whisky. Unlike several other craft distilleries Catoctin have always made their own spirits and use a mash-bill of 100% unmalted locally sourced organic rye. Their whisky is fermented and distilled ‘on the grain’ using copper pot stills and 3 enzymes are added to start and aid fermentation. 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 30 gallon Minnesota White Oak barrels for approximately 3 years or until it has reached the desired level of maturity. Similar to other distilleries, Catoctin distill a single recipe with the aged whisky bottled under one of their Roundstone Rye expressions depending on the final flavour profile. All Catoctin’s whiskies are non-chill filtered when bottled to maintain as much of their rye flavour as possible.
The Roundstone expression I will be reviewing today is the Roundstone Rye Distiller’s Edition, a single barrel rye bottled at 92 proof – for us enthusiasts who prefer our rye with a bit more bite in the ABV.
Name: Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye Whisky Single Barrel Distiller’s Edition Rye (Batch# 1848)
Age: NAS (approx 3 years old)
Proof: 92 Proof (46% ABV)
Type: Organic Rye Whisky
Mashbill: 100% Rye
Producer: Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, VA
Nose: On the nose there’s grassy rye, butterscotch, sweet red fruit, lemon zest, a touch of alcohol burn, and a hint of oak smoke.
Palate: The palate smooth and semi-viscous with peppery rye grain and spice. This is followed by more red fruit, lemon zest, and smokiness. The longer you chew this the more the spice subsides to yield sweet butterscotch and tropical fruit.
Finish: The finish brings a wave of spice followed by smoky oak, caramel, warmth and an aftertaste of dried apricots and light aniseed.
Overall: This is a very nice easy drinking rye whisky; it’s smooth, flavourful, well-balanced, and not just an over-oaked fiery wall of young rye spice and barrel char. What stands out for me is despite coming across young and grain forward on the nose, those bold and spicy rye grain notes are very well balanced by the rest of the flavours as you sip giving a spicy rye with a fruity edge. At times it is hard to believe that this is a 100% rye mashbill because of all the beautiful flavour notes that emerge as you chew this; however, I put this down to the fact that this isn’t sourced (so no familiar MGP notes here) and Catoctin’s considerate approach when making this whisky. First, only 1 in every 10-12 barrels makes the cut when Catoctin’s Master Distiller is selecting barrels for this expression. 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, Catoctin use 100% organic un-malted rye in their wash instead adding 3 enzymes: alpha-amylase to break the starch, glucoamylase to release the sugars, and beta glucanase to thin the final wash. All these factors and more, (including yeast, barrel type and size etc.), come together to create an oily, punchy rye whisky that’s full of fruity flavour that is unlike any rye I’ve tasted before. This whisky also handles itself very well in cocktails (having tried it in a rye mint julep myself) and the flavours didn’t fade when mixed.
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 5 different 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. Catoctin also have a range of fruit brandies made from local fruit, a gin, a traditional brandy, and a rye whisky exclusively made for Total Wine & More. 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. I also think their packaging deserves an honourable mention as I really like the overall look of the label and the feel of the embossed bottle.
Try or buy?
If you like bold, punchy rye whiskies that show their grain well then this is the one for you. If craft rye whiskies are your thing I’d buy without a second thought, otherwise why not try – you just might like it. For UK-based readers Catoctin’s Roundstone Rye is now available from The Whisky Exchange in several expressions including the 80 proof (40%), the 92 proof Distiller’s Edition, and the cask strength expressions!