Catoctin Creek Barrel Select Rye Whisky

Barrel #1717 selected by D&M Wines and Liquors (2019)

MASH BILL – 100% rye

PROOF – 113.8

AGE – 1 year in a 30-gallon barrel, then finished 7 months in a used cabernet cask 

DISTILLERY – Catoctin Creek Distilling Company

PRICE – $103

BUY AGAIN? – No, because $$$ not taste

This was a whim. I’d just come into some “extra” money (pffft!) and this bottle caught my eye. D&M is a friendly shop in San Francisco that’s been around since 1935. They have experience and good taste. I like 100% rye mash bills. And “never chill filtered” is a practice I appreciate. Despite the extreme young age and too high price, and because I also appreciate oddballs who don’t behave like the usual suspects, I went for it.

But before I’d even gotten it home I kinda wished I hadn’t bought it. For the same price I could get two or three other bottles. Or groceries! But too late. Another lesson in impulse-buy regret. I even attempted to trade it online for other bottles once or twice, but nobody bit. After a few months I finally accepted its presence on my shelf and uncorked it. 

I was very surprised. Here are some tasting notes in brief:

COLOR – a deep red copper

NOSE – cream up front, then deep and velvety red wine, dark floral rye, prunes and plumbs and wine-soaked apricots

TASTE – dark floral rye, chocolate, dark stone fruits soaked in red wine, a nice warm and shimmery tingle on swallowing

FINISH – the wine-soaked fruits and dark floral rye linger on a low warm heat

OVERALL – shockingly smooth and luscious for its unripe young age

I’m not generally the biggest fan of red wine finished bourbons or ryes. But this bottle is an accomplishment I can’t deny. 

First of all, it absolutely belies its youth. The use of a smaller barrel is a likely factor, aging the whisky “faster”—meaning more of the oak’s flavor is imparted into the liquid in a shorter timespan as compared to standard 53-gallon barrels. No chill filtering no doubt helps, leaving the natural flavor congeners in the whisky. And sometimes a well-done red wine cask finishing can add a round smoothness to a whisky, rather than mere fruity sweetness.

The flavor profile of this bottle immediately struck me as a cousin to Dry Diggings Distillery’s Rubicon Rye, which is similarly dark and fruity only without the use of wine cask finishing. It’s also a flavor-cousin to the recent Old Potrero Single Malt Rye Whiskey single barrel releases, always bottled at cask strength and swirling with chocolate, plumb, and dark floral rye notes. Darker in taste than the Rubicon, and less complex than Old Potrero, this Catoctin Creek doesn’t earn its price tag but it does earn respect. I’ll return to Catoctin Creek for sure, next time at a lower price.

I love pleasant surprises. Especially on a whim. And especially on a whim I regretted! As the national craft whiskey community continues to stray farther from the tried and true processes of Kentucky and Tennessee, assumptions about barrel size, age, region, and other typical factors looked to when assessing quality, all continue to shift. To date I have not enjoyed a whiskey under two years old as much as I do this bottle. My dislike of the flavor tendencies of toddler whiskeys has been pretty consistent, hence the extent of my surprise here. And when it comes to rye specifically, I’ve been convinced that six years is the minimum age for me, with a very short list of exceptions like Willett, Old Potrero—and now also Catoctin Creek. 

It’s a good reminder to always remain open-minded, and to not underestimate youth!

If you like 100% rye and red-wine finishes, and if you have some “extra” money on hand, check in with D&M and see if they still have any bottles of this singular Catoctin Creek left on the shelf.


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