Scott Harris must have great foresight.
He and his wife, Becky Harris, started a rye whiskey distillery, Catoctin Creek Distillery, in Purcellville, Va., in 2009 — just before the spicy whiskey drink catapulted to a ubiquitous offering at bars and liquor stores everywhere.
“I bought low and sold high” on rye whiskey, he told me as I sampled a cocktail made with a Catoctin Roundstone rye Wednesday night at 8UP Elevated Drinkery & Kitchen. He meant that literally — Constellation Brands bought a 25 percent share in his company in 2017.
That investment allowed the company to increase its production and thus offer products in more states, which is what brought Harris to Kentucky. The company’s product hit shelves here recently — It’s available at 8UP, Westport Whiskey and Wine, Total Wine & More, Taste Fine Wines and Bourbons and other places. The company uses Heidelberg Distributing Co. in Louisville.
Kentucky is a crowded market for liquor brands, considering that so much of the world’s bourbon supply is made in the Bluegrass State. So I asked Harris how he plans to compete.
“The fact that we don’t make bourbon is a benefit,” he responded. That makes it stand out on liquor store shelves, which are commonly crowded with bourbon brands in this market.
Rye whiskey, as you might have guessed from the name, features a high percentage of rye in its grain bill. As bourbon as grown in popularity in the last decade or so, we’ve seen rye take a similar course. In fact, plenty of Kentucky distillers that are known for their bourbon, including Woodford Reserve, Bulleit and Michter’s, make a rye whiskey as well.
Rye often is known for its spicy flavor, but I didn’t get much of that from Catoctin Creek. In fact, its lighter 80 proof Roundstone Rye expression had a butteriness to it that I found surprising for a rye. Keep in mind that I’m a business reporter, not a critic, so I’ll spare you the tasting notes.
You can buy Catoctin Creek 80 proof for about $45.
By the way, Constellation has made some headlines around here as well. I reported earlier this year that it bought a minority stake in Copper & Kings Distillery. It was also rumored to have approached Brown-Forman Corp. about an acquisition in 2017.