Catoctin Creek’s Balsamic Berry Old Fashioned


Whiskey and Virginia have been intertwined since the arrival of the first European settlers to the region. In 1607, colonists in Jamestown, Virginia, began distilling rye whisky. Our founding father, George Washington, made whiskey at his Virginia estate. His gristmill and whiskey distillery have been reconstructed at Mr. Vernon and once again produce whiskey for sale. Today, there are more than 45 distilleries in Virginia making whiskey, gin, vodka, and moonshine.  

Continuing this Old Dominion tradition is Catoctin Creek Distilling Company in Purcellville. Founded in 2009 by Becky and Scott Harris, Catoctin Creek produces gin and brandy, but is well-known for its Rye whiskey. Their flagship product, Roundstone Rye, has been awarded gold medals not just in the U.S.A. but internationally. This critical darling has been part of the great rye rebirth in American distilling. Described as a pre-prohibition style rye, it’s distilled from of 100% locally-sourced organic rye. 

According to Cactocincreek.com, the name pronounced Ka-TOCK-tin derives from the Indian tribal name “Kittocton” which, legend has it, meant “place of many deer.” Catoctin describes a range of mountains and the eponymous creek which flows past the distillery and into the Potomac River and Chesapeake watershed.  

The distillery offers tours, tastings and special events including bottling workshops and musical performances. Located only an hour from D.C. in Loudon County, a spirited sojourn here makes a perfect day trip from Georgetown. It’s easy to find in the middle of town and situated in a former Buick showroom.   

I visited the distillery years ago and had a delightful experience. However, this March, visitors have an extra incentive to take a spring road trip. In addition to spirit samples, their tasting room is also pouring cocktails by the glass.  

According to their website, “We started something new in our tasting room in March this year. After numerous requests, we’re now pouring cocktails by the glass. Our menu for March includes a few perennial favorites, including the Balsamic Berry Old Fashioned and the Bloody Mosby, but we also include four new cocktails, the Fox Mulder, Blueberry Shrub, James Bond Martini and Jasmine Gin Fizz.  

The standard old fashioned cocktail is the most recognizable Rye tipple. It’s made by muddling sugar with bitters and water, adding whiskey, and is usually garnished with orange and a cocktail cherry. The simple drink saw a huge resurgence starting in the mid 2000s as the preferred drink of Mad Men’s Don Draper.  

The Balsamic Berry Old Fashioned offers an elevated take on this timeless classic. This ideal spring refresher boasts a sunny taste with the smack of whiskey to warm you on crisp days. The tart fruit flavors, which come from a homemade raspberry/blackberry syrup and cranberry juice, keep this cocktail from becoming too sweet and also balance out the strong rye component. What sets this drink apart from its traditional counterpart is the sophisticated twang from the balsamic vinegar which adds a multilayered element. 

“The use of balsamic vinegar in this cocktail may seem novel at first, although historically, vinegar would have been used as a substitute for citrus, providing a similar acid backbone required in most cocktails.” Says Hannah Blymyer, the cocktail’s creator.The balsamic vinegar has the advantage that it’s been aged, so it has the deepness and richness of flavor that mirrors the whiskey. But it’s important not to use too much, lest your cocktail taste like salad dressing!” 

If you can’t make the journey out of town, you can still enjoy this cocktail at home. Catoctin rye whiskey is sold in many D.C. liquor stores and the recipe can be duplicated in your kitchen.  

Balsamic Berry Old Fashioned 

Recipe by Hannah Blymyer, Catoctin Creek 

1.5 ounces Roundstone Rye 
half oz aged balsamic vinegar 
half oz cranberry juice 
half oz berry syrup 
2 raspberries for garnish  

Combine all ingredients over ice and stir in a rocks glass. Garnish with two raspberries.  

Berry Syrup  

6 oz blackberries 
6 oz raspberries 
1 cup sugar 
1 cup water 

Bring mixture to a simmer for 10 mins, puree and strain.  

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