Owning a distillery has to be one of the best “jobs” to have especially in Loudoun County which is known as D.C.'s Wine Country. Scott and Becky Harris are living the dream as the founders of the the family owned Catoctin Creek® Distilling Company located in Purcellville,Virginia. The husband and wife founded Catoctin Creek® Distilling Company in 2009 and it is the first legal distillery in Loudoun County before Prohibition.
In a relatively short period of time the couple has experienced rapid success and doubled their growth over the years. This year they are expecting to bottle well over 40,000 bottles and becoming a go-to destination for people in the D.C., Maryland and Virginia (DMV) areas. Just like making their own unique whiskey has a recipe and takes time to get just right, the founders leveraged their background and experience to build their business in much of the same way.
The Dynamic Duo: Becky & Scott Harris
Becky Harris has a background in chemical engineering and specifically process chemistry. As Scott explained she “took research and development projects and mass produced them. Having that background was a really, really good fit for the business.” As the company grew, they wanted to make sure that process and procedures were very well thought out and tested to ensure that when they hired more and more employees that there was a process to ensure consistency in each of the batches of whiskey that they produced.
While Becky focused more on the process, Scott's background was in computer technology and business management. He had experience running multi-million dollar government programs. Because these programs had milestones and he managed employees and a budget, he explained that that experience was “very similar to running a small business.” While Scott is managing sales and marketing and the day-to-day business operations, it is Becky that is managing the process and ensuring that there was enough whiskey for customers.
Scott explained that when they started their business they “built a small business but with the procedures so that it could scale.” It allowed them to bring on people and get them up-to-speed very quickly. Also, by ensuring they fine-tuned their processes and procedures they were able to make sure they would be in compliance with regulations and if any of their investors might ask for a balance sheet or expense statement, they would be able to provide them.
“Making the Hell Out of It”
Every morning for the past 5 years Becky goes to the distillery at 6 am and starts the mash tank and puts the grain in there to get the process started. “At it's heart while people romanticize the process of making whiskey and I don't want to oversimplify it but it is a recipe” explained Scott. After a few months of tweaking that recipe and getting it just right, they started to just make “the hell out of it and they've been making it ever since.”
The challenge that they had to try to focus on was the drudgery of doing the same tasks over and over again for years. While it might seem fun for a few days for the average person, year after year of doing the same thing over and over again might not be for everyone. It is a blue-collar job but to help with that drudgery, the team likes to work on different projects like grape or apple brandy.
At Catoctin Creek® Distilling Company, which gets its name from a range of mountains and creek which flows into the Potomac River and Chesapeake Watershed, they also make it a point to try and name all their products after the area to pay homage to where they started.
The Roundstone Rye is their best-seller and they focus on providing high quality food and spirits. Their alcohol is sold in Washington, D.C., Maryland & Virginia, their strongest market, and they are in various states across the nation including Delaware, New York, Pennsylvania, Connecticut, Massachusetts, Georgia and Tennessee. Their products are also available in Hong Kong and possibly Europe soon.
As Scott explained at the end of the day, they are really making a big difference especially compared to his days in the cubicle where he made a lot of money but felt unfulfilled. The team sources as much as they can locally from their rye and their spent rye (without the alcohol) goes to local farmers to feed cattle. They also collaborate with local wineries including Fabbioli and Tarara and Bluemont Vinyards. They make wine for them and they make it into brandy and they also make brandy for other wineries.
Advice for Entrepreneurs & Business Owners
For aspiring entrepreneurs and business owners, Scott explains that you need to have 1 of 3 things at least–money, experience and a work ethic. The problem is that people typically have none of those 3 things but it would be really good to have at least 2 of 3 of those things.
Catoctin Creek® Distilling Company is an organic distilling company and is located at 120 W Main Street Purcellville, VA 20132. The entire experience at Catoctin Creek typically takes about an hour including 30 minutes spent taking a tour of the distillery and 30 minutes for tasting. On a typical weekend, Catoctin Creek sees over 600 people and the number continues to grow the closer it gets to the weekend.