At Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, small is beautiful, but growth is gorgeous.
The Purcellville-based distillery, known for its flagship Roundstone Rye whisky, is ramping up to take its brand national. But at the same time, owners Becky and Scott Harris are committed to keeping their focus local—including a program creating fun, boutique bottlings for area restaurants.
Last month, Catoctin Creek announced that beverage giant Constellation Brands acquired a minority stake in the company via its Constellation Ventures arm, which Becky Harris calls an incubator for small craft spirit companies.
“With the advent of increased competition even locally, it really takes more resources to support your brand,” she said. “We were trying to grow organically but it gets more and more difficult to see sales consistently stay level when you don’t have the support that you need. We were looking for a strategic partner.”
Catoctin Creek has been racking up awards and fans in the Virginia, Maryland and DC region and has made inroads in the competitive New York spirits market. But with accolades from national media piling up, the owners decided it was time to take the brand nationwide. And that’s where Constellation’s money and expertise come in.
“I think they see what we were trying to do, and we see what they’re trying to do. It really kind of meshed,” Becky Harris said.
But the Harrises—Becky, a former chemical engineer who is the company’s master distiller, and Scott, a former IT guy who is the company’s general manager—are still very much in charge and focused on the local market, even as they look to expand. And the distillery’s cozy downtown Purcellville tasting room remains a vibrant part of its business, as does a series of partnerships with area restaurants and breweries.
Next week, the new Copperwood Tavern at One Loudoun officially rolls out its Virginia Heritage Cask whisky, made special for the restaurant by Harris and her team. The new bottling has been available since mid-January at the restaurant’s two locations (in Shirlington and Ashburn) and has been flying off the shelves, said Copperwood’s beverage director Jody Hessler.
“We had people sitting and waiting at our restaurants for it to arrive,” Hessler said. “I was thinking we’d go through six to 10 bottles a week between both [locations]…We’ve blown through 84 bottles in four weeks.”
Hessler, who is known for his passion for regional craft spirits—and his willingness to drive hundreds of miles to get them—said the production process was a fun, educational experience for his team and created a product patrons love.
Hessler and his team sampled several barrels in a range of taste profiles before selecting a darker colored whisky with honey undertones. And Harris specifically brought the whisky to an alcohol content of 88 proof at Hessler’s request in honor of 1788, the year Virginia became a state. The Copperwood team then returned to help bottle and label the special blend.
Hessler has used the Virginia Heritage Cask whisky to create a signature cocktail—the Copperwood Old Fashioned—featuring hand-brandied cherries and house-made bitters made with Virginia Lightning Moonshine from Culpeper’s Belmont Farms distillery.
Becky and Scott Harris, along with their popular Virginia brand ambassador John Shope, will be on hand at Copperwood One Loudoun’s Meet the Distiller event Wednesday, Feb. 22, offering samples of the product and discussing the production process.
Meanwhile, Becky Harris said, 2017 will be a transition year for Catoctin Creek as she and Scott plan their growth with their new partner, including working toward national distribution in major markets and expanding production of their core brands to go along with it. This will mean growing their local production team and creating an expanded network of distributors around the country. But Purcellville will remain home, Harris said. Their current building on Main Street will support both their production and tasting room needs—at least for the next few years.
“A lot of times people think [the investment] means everything is changing, and that’s the last thing we were looking for,” she said. “We’ve really been focused on making the best Virginia rye whisky that we can make, and that hasn’t changed. We’re excited to be given the opportunity to take it across the country.”
For more information on Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, go to catoctincreekdistilling.com.