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Catoctin Creek Distilling Company, best known for its Roundstone Rye, is preparing to unveil a new addition to its rye whiskey portfolio: Rabble Rouser. Whereas Roundstone Rye is aged for just under two years, Rabble Rouser will be four years old when it’s released in October. Not only is that double the amount of time required for the spirit to legally qualify as a “straight” rye whiskey, it also makes Catoctin Creek one of just a few craft distilleries producing rye whiskey of that age.
“We felt there wasn’t much out there that’s four [years old] yet, in terms of craft brands,” says distiller Becky Harris. Most small distilleries are producing rye at two years or less. “It’ll be the oldest thing we’ve made, and I’ve been hiding it away for a long time.”
Catoctin Creek faces ongoing, immediate demand for its signature Roundstone Rye, so stealing away the still for an alternative product can be a challenge.
“When we started up, we were so busy doing Roundstone Rye and we were trying to get cash in the bank,” explains co-owner Scott Harris. “But we would do one week every year to do something a little bit different, do a [research and development] run. This was the start of that.”
The initial run of 100-proof Rabble Rouser will produce about 150 bottles, which will sell for about $60 each. The limited supply will be mostly allocated to the distillery’s best retail customers and will likely be difficult to nab.
Aside from spending more time in the barrel, Rabble Rouser is made differently than Roundstone Rye. While both feature the same 100-percent rye mash bill, the distillation process varies. “We open up some of the plates, allow a lot more of the earthy goodness to come through,” explains Scott Harris.
Knowing the spirit will be aged for a longer window, they’re able to offer a different base flavor profile, letting the barrel go to work on the spirit. “That means the raw spirit isn’t as drinkable on its own, as it’s not intended to be a young whiskey,” Scott Harris says.
Sampled straight from the barrel at cask proof during a recent trip to the distillery, Rabble Rouser offered a chewier mouthfeel than Roundstone Rye, with a strong rye spice and a heartier, deeper flavor profile.
“Whereas Roundstone is sort of restrained and elegant,” Scott Harris says, “this one is sort of unruly and vivacious.”
Next year’s Rabble Rouser release will be twice the size as this year’s, with two barrels safely stashed away. “Eventually though, [Rabble Rouser] will be easier to get a hold of,” says Becky Harris. “I’m starting to build up.”
And that’s just the beginning of Catoctin Creek’s growth. The distillery moved into a larger location on Main Street in Purcellville, Va., in August 2013. They’ve already added a 300-gallon still, devoted solely to running Roundstone Rye, and could potentially quadruple their production by doing more distillation runs more days per week.
Recently, they also added a bottling line to meet growing demand. While they still offer volunteer bottling workshops on certain weekends, they don’t actually rely on the crowd-favorite activity to fill orders.
“We have space and room to grow still,” says Becky Harris. Rabble Rouser could be just the first of many new releases.
Photos by Jake Emen