Based in the rolling hills of Northern Virginia, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company has been making waves since 2009.
Founded by Rebecca (Becky) and Scott Harris, the distillery crafts stunning, award winning whisky under the watchful eye of Becky, who serves as Chief Distiller. Catoctin Creek crafts a range of stunning spirits including their flagship Roundstone Rye, Watershed Gin, and a range of brandies. We caught up with Becky as part of our recent Women’s Issue, and wanted to share the full interview.
To read more of the story and learn more about women in the spirits industry, head to our digital issue.
Over the past decade a new generation of women have surfaced in top-tier positions in the spirits industry. Talk to us about this trend.
I am personally incredibly excited and energized by the new visibility of women in leadership roles in the spirits industry. Women leaders like Peggy Noe Stevens, and Margie Samuels have always been present, but the characterization of spirits (especially whisky) as being for men, made their contributions underplayed in the stories told by producers and the media. Telling women’s stories makes women more comfortable exploring and enjoying all categories of spirits. Supporting this interest and exploration is one of my favorite kind of consumer interaction!
Why do you think the time was ripe for women to break through barriers as they have?
The emergence of craft spirits as a vibrant innovative category highlighted the contributions of women in developing products and flavor profiles, and craft distilleries featured those contributions prominently. As this began to get more attention from the press, the legacy brands began to highlight the brilliant women working there as well, and some women who started in small distilleries, like Nicole Austin and Maggie Campbell have become leaders in legacy brands.
This issue of Chilled celebrates influential women in the industry. Tell us about the inclusion of women in top-tier positions at Catoctin Creek.
I’m the leader of production, and I have always sought out women as part of our team. When we taste through barrels to decide which expression they should be released as, I always include men and women as tasters since I want our Virginia ryes to appeal to all our customers. Beyond our own brand, I have taken a leadership role in launching the STEPUP foundation for internships for underrepresented people in the spirits industry, https://stepupinternship.org/. In the next several years,
How important is the inclusion of women in key positions to the brand’s distinction in the industry?
Every brand should be looking to women as key leaders. Opportunity has been the challenge. STEPUP will be providing year-long paid internships to selected people interested in careers in the spirits industry. We believe that these folks will change the face of new and legacy brands from top to bottom.
What can you tell us about the innovations coming from the Catoctin Creek brand?
We are the Virginia Rye Whisky – bringing this history and flavor profile to the world has been so exciting. Virginia was the largest producer of whisky in the US in 1810, with 3600 distilleries. We do not even have that many in the entire US today. Whisky that is steeped in a sense of place and made from local ingredients from grain to even some of our cooperage. Deepening this commitment is what keeps me challenged and the brand evolving.
Women have a large impact on new innovations being launched today. Talk to us about this shift.
In the past 10 years, the number of craft distilleries in the US has grown more than tenfold, from 200 to more than 2200 this year. These small producers, many helmed by women, have been open to taking chances in creating new expressions and reflecting their visions from the raw ingredients used to the look and feel of packaging. As we as an industry increase the representation of people of color as well in leadership, we will see even more innovative products which can become our new favorites!
Whisky Brands are more and more innovative these days hoping to attract a new generation of whiskey drinkers- talk to us about this trend.
In the past 20 years, I along with many other people have become increasingly interested in the provenance of what I eat and drink. I want my dollars to stay close to the communities where I shop, and not necessarily passed up to multinational shareholders. Consumers like me want to try new products, find new favorites, and get to know the people in the companies I support. New flavors and new stories are what so many people are looking for.
What is important for bartenders to know about your products?
The greatest single joy of starting this business as a second career has been the opportunity to connect and work with the many brilliant people in the hospitality community I have worked with around the country. Our Virginia Rye is as equally at home in a Manhattan as served neat, and I look forward to sharing our products with more of you all out there across the country as we emerge from the pandemic.