Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is the first distillery in Loudoun County, Virginia since before prohibition. Certified organic and kosher, and family owned and operated, Catoctin Creek produces premium spirits: rye whisky and gin from organic sources, brandy from Virginia wines, and seasonal brandy. At Catoctin Creek, high quality and organic spirits are our passion. For more information, contact Kyle Schmitz at www.catoctincreek.com or 120 W. Main Street, Purcellville, VA 20132. Tel: 703-794-7713.
PART 1 of 2 – Catoctin Creek Distilling Company
Last week, I had the great pleasure of speaking with Becky Harris of Catoctin Creek Distilling Company. WomanCon introduced Becky to one of our strategic partners, a wonderful magazine called Cake & Whiskeywhose mission is to “seek[s] to provide current, engaging and sophisticated perspectives into the modern business world through casual interviews conducted over a slice of cake and glass of whiskey, wide geography and various perspectives, stunning photography and creative design.”
Becky Harris’ story begins like many other startup stories familiar to us – working for the government day in and day out, all the while pining away or a life that brings together passion and business. However, in this case, it wasn’t Becky working for the government, it was her husband, Scott, who had been working as a software design and engineering government contractor for the majority of his career. Becky jokes that it was because of this job, that Scott developed a love of drinking. All joking aside, their shared passion for spirits developed gradually after many weekend visits and vacations to distilleries, breweries and wineries in the local area and around the country.
It didn’t come as much of a surprise when Scott came to Becky in 2008 to let her know that he wanted to take a 180 degree turn in his career and realize his dream of founding their very own distillery. Becky’s first reaction was that she thought he was a little crazy. However, instead of dashing his dreams with a negative response, she took a step back and told him to work on a business plan to get the dream into practical terms.
After a year, they completed the business plan. At that time, Becky, who is a chemical engineer, had been working at raising her two boys. Now, she realized that her children were growing up, both about to enter middle school. With the family dream and the vision for a real business on paper, her boys more self-sufficient, and a technical background ready to be leveraged, in 2009, Scott and Becky collectively made the decision to take a chance and pour their entire 20-year savings to found Catoctin Creek Distilling Company.
In a bit of a role reversal, Scott kept his day job and Becky started the production end of the business, leveraging her chemical engineering mindset and technical prowess. Normally, in the distillery business, the husband runs the production and the wife is the business person.Catoctin Creek Distilling Company flips this dynamic. Becky and Scott continued this business arrangement for a couple of years until the business was generating enough revenue to allow Scott to leave his government job and focus on the business full time.
Building the business to where it is today required research, dedication and sacrifice on the part of the entire family. Success didn’t happen overnight. Like so many other entrepreneurs, they started from humble beginnings, distilling their first spirits in an un-glorified warehouse space, about a quarter of the size of the facility they own today.
Now, 17 employees later, Catoctin Creek has expanded into a 6,000 square foot refurbished 1921 Buick Dealership on Main Street in Purcellville, VA. It’s here in this open and airy, window lined and refurbished showroom-now-tasting room that Becky and Scott welcome visitors from all over Loudoun County, the US and even the world. Since Loudoun County is part of the Washington D.C. wine country, Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is listed along the area’s wine trail. This provides an enormous marketing and awareness benefit, attracting visitors from all over.
Catoctin Creek Distilling Company is unique in many ways, in that it appeals to both men and women. In the spirit distilling business, it is rare to find a female distiller. Consequently, whiskey and other spirits are crafted toward a male audience and women are an afterthought. With Becky at the distilling helm, everything Catoctin Creek does is focused on making whiskey equally accessible to women and men. A great example that brings this to life is in their tasting room, which not only offers whiskey ‘neat’, but also blended in cocktails. Further, they offer classes that teach consumers how to incorporate spirits into a wide variety of recipes – a highly unusual, but extremely effective twist for the spirits industry.
When Becky made the decision to go into business with her husband, she took all the necessary steps and actions to ensure its success. Founding Catoctin Creek Distilling Company was, and still is, a very scary proposition. It entails great sacrifice, especially as parents. In fact, on many occasions, Becky’s boys have asked her why she has to do this. Her response is that the business requires as much as, if not more, time and effort than raising a family. Becky feels that it’s extremely important for her kids to experience such a powerful life lesson, first hand. If you have a dream and you want it to become a reality, then you have to do every last thing that you can in order to make it work. That way, you can always feel good knowing that you gave it your all. A great life lesson for sure.
In part two, we will delve into important entrepreneurial lessons learned by Becky and advice she would like to share with the WomanCon community.