I’m a firm believer in working your way through an artist’s body of work in chronological order if at all possible. Like, you don’t start with Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band. If you want to get into the Beatles, you start with Please, Please Me and work your way up to Sgt. Pepper’s and Abbey Road and beyond. Of course, it’s impossible to do that all the time with every artist, but I feel like it’s a good approach so you get to evolve with the band. It’s fun. I promise. Same for a craft whiskey distillery, which will often release unaged whiskey, then a couple of years later a lightly aged whiskey, then later a well-aged whiskey and so forth and so on. You catch onto a young distillery at the beginning and you get to watch their booze evolve.
Take Catoctin Creek, for instance. The Virginia-based distillery turned heads with their flagship, Roundstone Rye, when it was first released several years ago. And it’s won tons of hardware ever since, but the distillery has put out a series of increasingly more interesting spirits since catching the whiskey world’s eye with their original Roundstone Rye. And I think Catoctin Creek is at peak evolution with Rabble Rouser, their latest rye and their first Bottled-in-Bond whiskey.
“Bottled-in-Bond” was an act passed in the late 1800s designed to separate quality whiskey from crap whiskey. At the time, the market was flooded with bottles containing false age statements and additives. Basically, every con-artist in America was putting out colored fire water and calling it bourbon. If “Bottled-in-Bond” was stamped on the cap, you knew it was good booze that met a series of standards, from having the barrels emptied and bottled under U.S. government supervision to ensuring that all of the spirits in the bottle were distilled at the same place in the same season. “Bottled-in-Bond” doesn’t necessarily carry the same weight as it did back in 1897, but you’ll still find plenty of distilleries that go through the measures to release whiskey with the stamp on the cap or label.
Rabble Rouser doesn’t need any fancy stamp to be great, though. It just is. The 100% rye is aged for four years and bottled at 100 proof. It pours a deep mahogany and has an incredibly enticing nose full of cherries and toasted marshmallows. There’s nothing but rye in the bottle, so you’ve got plenty of spice to contend with, with notes of pepper and ash, but also a hell of a lot of caramel, like from the center of your favorite candy bar. There’s some stone fruit in there, maybe some figs and something nutty, like cashews. A layer of heat underscores all of it so you realize you’re drinking a relatively high-proof rye.
Put some ice in the glass and it develops a creamy mouthfeel. The spice takes a step back, which I usually complain about with other whiskies, but I don’t mind it here. There’s not as much balance between the spice and sweet notes, so you’re left with a bunch of bright cherry, earthy figs, and sweet caramel. And let’s face it—that doesn’t suck.
Bottled-in-Bond or not, Rabble Rouser is a rye worthy of your time. This is evolution at its best.
Distillery: Catoctin Creek
Location: Purcellville, Virginia