Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Catoctin Distillery, Purceville

I took Friday afternoon off and drove over to Purceville where I had signed up to help a local distillery with their bottling.Catoctin Creek only started up in 2009 as Loudoun County's first distillery since Prohibition and already has a great reputation with its products, having accrued a collection of awards and accolades.
Every so often they ask volunteers to come in and assist with bottling. These events fill up fast so I was pleased to get in on Friday.
The Still where the action takes place.
Scott gives a quick run down of how things will  be done and then without further ado we got started.
The labels we were putting on the filled bottles of Roundstone Rye. We had a little production line going with one person putting cases of empty bottles next to another person operating the Whiskey Cow, who hands the filled bottles to The Corker. The bottle is held up and inspected for floaters by The Chunk Dumper who then passes it onto The Capper. A runner passes the bottles to The Labelers at the tables and also then takes the finished bottles to Becky who gives them a final check then boxes them. We were all able to partake in any of the jobs and at certain times the bottles were flying through the process.
I had a go on the Whiskey Cow which I enjoyed as I'm quite ambidextrous and didn't struggle with needing to use both hands at once. The smell here was heavenly.
The production line running smoothly here.
Corking, checking & capping.
Putting on a label...
...which can call for a lot of concentration.
Completed bottles with the Good Food Award sticker added at a 'jaunty' angle. Considering what alcohol can do to people this was a very civilized affair with no visible drooling going on, although someone would stop occasionally and sniff the air with a dreamy smile.
The final check.
Posing with the product. We were pleased with our performance, 750 bottles in 1.5 hours and no breakages.
Scott took charge at the end as the last dregs of whiskey had to be bottled. We all watched carefully in silence, reminding me of dogs ogling their owners dishing up a dinner. I didn't need to look round to know that some serious choplicking was going on.
And then it was time for the tastings. We all hurriedly sat down and patiently waited as the shot glasses were passed out and the delectable fluids poured.
Whiskey is essentially distilled beer but without the hops, only rye is used. When the beer is fermented it goes into the still and once the desired temperature of 80 degrees is achieved, the alcohol vaporizes and the steam travels to a condenser where it is converted back to liquid. The process has 3 parts, head, heart and tail. Heads is before 80 degrees is reached and the alcohol during this part of the process isn't consumed but used for cleaning. The heart part of the process contains the sweetest alcohol and is where all the good stuff comes from. As the heart loses its sweetness and gradually becomes bitter, this is the cut off and the end part of the process is called the tails, which is saved and can be run through the process again.
The first whiskey off the still is clear, isn't aged, and this becomes Mosby's Spirit. Scott referred to it a Virginia's legal moonshine.We had a taste of this which hit the spot and then waited expectantly for the next pour.
The Roundstone Rye was next. This is essentially The Mosby's put into white oak barrels for 2 years adding flavor and color. Then we were offered water to rinse our glasses, and one person quipped, "Make it a double, I'm driving!"
Lastly, we tried the Watershed Gin which also had a lovely aftertaste. Then for an additional treat we were given a taste of a maple syrup sold in the store. I'm not a big fan of maple syrup as it's so sweet, but this had been aged in the used whiskey barrels, it was heavenly and prompted a lot of lip smacking.
The distillery also makes a Pear Brandy, branding being distilled wine, and since we weren't offered a tasting of that I decided to take a chance and purchase a bottle. A splendid decision, I discovered as soon as I got home!

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