Catoctin Creek Distillery is perhaps best known for its Virginia Rye whiskey as well as its partnership with GWAR, a satirical thrash metal band. Founder and Distiller Rebecca Harris currently serves as the President of the American Craft Distillers Association, a role she began in 2020, just in time to work with distillers across the country to produce hand sanitizer. These days she’s overseeing a major upgrade to her distillery with co-Founder Scott Harris. We recently caught up with her to learn more.
MK: You jumped into action to make hand sanitizer and teach other distillers to do the same in 2020. What is the most important thing you learned from that experience?
RH: That was a really challenging time for small distillers, and what really struck me during that process is the incredible power that a group of distillers can wield when we work and act as one. The American Craft Spirits Association is uniquely positioned to interpret rules and educate independent distilleries. As a nonprofit run by distillers, we had access to a tremendous amount of expertise in the technical and regulatory challenges of the effort, as well as the ability to connect that information with the people out in their communities just trying to help their neighbors. I truly believe that only by banding together can we really transform the industry at every level. And I am excited to build on that effort in the ongoing struggle that small distillers have in gaining access to customers and markets around the country. I really want to gain the ability to order from distilleries directly, so I can try their products, or ship them home after I visit in person.
MK: Catoctin Creek whiskeys have garnered some major accolades over the years. What are you most proud of?
RH: This is a really challenging question: if we are talking about the whiskies, they’re like my children, and I love them all! As for the accolades, I am most proud of the consistency we have shown over the past years, reflected in those scores. We have always made these products with an eye toward reflecting the character of the Virginia Piedmont region, where we live, and the story of rye before whiskey was a mass-produced commodity. I am proud that my team and process have consistently been making that character and that story delicious.
MK: Catoctin Creek’s Roundstone Rye was the first product you released. How has it changed since that first release?
RH: Our Roundstone has been evolving steadily since that first release. The most exciting way to me was bringing more and more local content into our process. It took several years for us to find someone to grow our Virginia grain, and we have been experimenting regularly with different varietals to see how they serve the land and the spirit. Rymin and Brasetto have been a good fit for our grower in the past four years, but we continue to explore what other options work with the climate and the barrel for the best flavor. And speaking of barrels, we have slowly begun to incorporate Virginia oak into our products. This is incredibly exciting too, as it further differentiates our flavor, and shows that rye whiskies made from scratch can be just as diverse and exciting to explore as Bourbons and single malts – yes, I’m a rye evangelist!
MK: What’s next for Catoctin Creek Distillery?
RH: We have just completed the first phase of a million-dollar plant upgrade, with more targeted changes to handle the growth on the production side underway. I am also excited to expand our presence in markets around the US and around the world. We have been the little distillery that could for over ten years, and I look forward to beginning to spread our wings a bit. Let’s introduce more folks to the flavor and story of Virginia rye!
MK: Is there anything that you would tell your former self to make the journey to this point a little easier?
RH: SO many things! From day one, know the importance of branding and visual identity. Get out of the plant more and spend time with consumers and other industry folks. The women in this industry are powerhouses, and I have been so grateful as I have finally begun to connect with them in the past five years. There will always be tough times and finding support and camaraderie as a woman in whiskey and an entrepreneur makes the tough times better!
Photos Courtesy of Catoctin Creek
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