Rye whiskey being distilled at Catoctin Creek Distillery, in Purcellville, Virginia.
I visited the facility one Saturday in March, and took the tour, offered by co-owner/distiller Scott Harris. Here's what I learned.
Organic rye malt from Kansas is mashed, and the wort (sweet liquid) is boiled. Cooled to room temperature, it is fermented over a week's time in 310-gallon plastic fermenters. The resultant 'wash' is then distilled, vaporized in a 400-liter still. The distillate is cooled by a tap-water counter flow chiller. Alcohol condenses before water, and is collected as it streams from the still. The initial condensate, or "heads," is 'impure' containing such by-products as acetaldeyde. It is discarded. The end of the distillate, or "tails," consisting of fusel alcohols (such as methanol and acetate) and water, is also considered impure and is discarded.
Which leaves the "hearts" of the run, which is collected, and then aged or bottled. Harris told us that the contents of one fermenter is distilled down to the contents of only one barrel
The rye whiskey is bottled both un-aged as a "white' spirit, at 80 proof, called Mosby's Run, and as Roundstone Rye, which is aged for a minimum of two years in 30-gallon Missouri oak barrels.
Catoctin Creek is currently producing about 40,000 bottles per year: the above two and a gin infused with juniper, coriander, cinnamon and lemon peel. Additionally, the distillery produces brandy, distilled from Virginia grapes, the first ever in Virginia. At present, the spirits are sold primarily in Washington, D.C., Maryland, and Virginia. The volume sold in the District is more than that of the two states combined. Additional shipments go to Pennsylvania, New York City, and, soon, to Georgia.
Harris told us that the distillery has outgrown its digs, and will be moving during the summer months into a much larger building, an historic site in downtown Purcellville. Scott Harris and wife co-owner Becky Harris will bring along their current still, but will add a new one to the production, at three times the size. *******************