Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. of Purcellville, VA has been around since 2009—ages, in other words, in a microdistillery scene where so many of the small distilleries are half as old or even younger. In that time, they’ve made their name primarily via rye whiskey—we’re talking an array of ryes at different proof points, from the flagship 80 proof Roundstone Rye to the premium Rabble Rouser Bottled-in-Bond rye whisky. Note, Catoctin Creek does use the Scottish “whisky” spelling for their product, even when they’re designing a rye for the likes of GWAR. At the same time, the distillery has also produced a handful of Virginia brandies and fruit brandies, with flavors such as pear, peach and apple.
It only made sense that the two sides of Catoctin Creek eventually collide, then, and collide they have in the form of this small-scale special release, dubbed Life’s a Peach. This is an entry in Catoctin Creek’s “Barrel Select Rye” series of special releases, modifying their base 100% unmalted rye recipe with special finishes. In this case, Life’s a Peach rested in the brand’s own Short Hill Mountain Peach Brandy casks for more than a year after finishing its initial maturation in newly charred American oak, likely for about two years. At the distillery puts it, “this whisky brings a little of summer’s warmth to those cooler nights sipping whisky socially distanced on our porches.”
This is a tiny release of a mere 540 bottles, but indicative of the way that Catoctin Creek continues to experiment with the rye that is their lifeblood. It weighs in at a lightweight 40% ABV (80 proof) and carries a roughly $46 MSRP. With all that said, let’s get to tasting.
On the nose, the first thing I’m getting is a somewhat youthful and grain-forward character that is rather bready/doughy in character. It’s reminiscent to me of rye whiskeys made with some percentage of malted rye, but that is apparently not the case here—instead, I expect it’s simply a factor of the rye’s youth and lower proof. Following the fresher, grainier impressions I’m also getting butter toffee, caraway, vanilla and ah, there it is—stone fruit. The “peachiness” is by no means up in your face on the nose, reading as a gentle, fruity sweetness.
On the palate, I’m getting an appealing combination of bready-maltiness, honey, orange and peach, supported by light vanilla. Sweetness is mild-to-moderate, but the heat is surprisingly expressive for its 80 proof. In fact, it’s been a while since I’ve had a whiskey at this lower proof point that leaves that sort of smoldering sensation in the chest, and it’s perhaps a bit more aggressive at this level than it should be, going purely off the whisky’s specs. Still, the modest stone fruit flavors play pretty nicely with the toastier, honeyed characteristics. It all makes for a rye whiskey that may not be quite as gentle a sipper as was likely intended, but I think its qualities will likely play quite well in say, a peach-inflected Old Fashioned.
Note to self: Make that Old Fashioned sometime soon.
Distillery: Catoctin Creek Distilling Co.
City: Purcellville, VA
Style: Rye whiskey
Availability: Limited, 750 ml bottles, $46 MSRP
Jim Vorel is a Paste staff writer and resident brown liquor geek. You can follow him on Twitter for more drink writing.