Friendships that blossom from mutually shared interests can form solid bonds. But when a friendship results in custom-distilled tequila, that’s something truly special.
For Becky and Scott Harris, owners of Catoctin Creek Distillery in Purcellville, making tequila for their friends, Chef Jason Lage and Rebecca Dudley, proprietors of the newly opened Cocina on Market restaurant in Leesburg, was a labor of love.
The couples became friends after opening their now well-established businesses around the same time in Purcellville in 2009. (Dudley and Lage also own Market Burger across from the distillery on Main Street, as well as Market Table Bistro in Lovettsville.)
They share a commitment to environmental sustainability and to local farmers and businesses, including each other’s. The Harrises provide their spent grains, which produce Catoctin’s numerous award-winning whiskeys (as well as brandy and gin), to area farms as organic animal feed. Lage and Dudley have long been recognized for supporting local farmers by purchasing produce and proteins for every dish their restaurants create.
“Our businesses were aligned from the beginning. We’re right across the street from one another and there was so much synchronicity between us. Our friendship quickly developed,” Dudley said. “If we hadn’t gotten to know them, this collaboration might never have happened.”
The Harrises are equally enthusiastic about Lage and Dudley. Scott Harris said their restaurants have become his family’s de facto celebration sites. He said both he and Becky “practically live” at Market Burger, and that Market Table Bistro sells more Catoctin Creek spirits than any other restaurant in Loudoun County.
“This partnership reflects our gratitude and affection for them. Jason and Rebecca have always been big supporters and they share our values,” Harris said. “It was really a fun, exciting process.”
Even though the distilling functions are the same, Harris and Dudley point out that their custom-distilled spirit cannot legally be called “tequila.” That’s because, just as France has a proprietary lock on the use of the “champagne” and “cognac” tags, tequila produced outside of Mexico must be labeled as an “agave spirit.”
“This is all established by international law and treaties,” Harris said.
Regardless, both couples are pleased with the first run, which produced a test batch of 100 gallons (about 15 cases of 750ml bottles). Scott Harris said Becky, the chief distiller at Catoctin Creek, did “a ton” of research about tequila making before embarking on the project. He says it’s a relatively easy, quick process for an experienced distiller, with the first batch only requiring two weeks. The couples chose a wild heirloom agave from Mexico, which according to Dudley, resulted in subtle citrus and honey notes.
The Harrises were pleasantly surprised at the distinct lime and grapefruit hints on the tongue. And they’re excited to do more, including experimenting with longer fermentation times which can result in a richer, more complex taste and color. They noted this is the first time agave spirits have been produced in Loudoun County.
The agave spirit, which Lage and Dudley aptly named Dos Gringos, serves as Cocina on Market’s house tequila. Depending on how well it sells with customers, they expect to regularly order more from Catoctin Creek Distillery.
Dudley is optimistic about a continuing collaboration. She said, “Our regular customers already love it.”