At Catoctin Creek Distillers, Sen. Tim Kaine offers help with tariffs

By Laura Longley

On a sunny and surprisingly warm March 26th near the end of Women’s History Month, Sen. Tim Kaine (D-VA) arrived in Loudoun to visit Leesburg, Purcellville, and Round Hill and deliver a long-awaited message:  With vaccinations and the new American Rescue Plan, relief is on the way for women in business.

After meeting in Leesburg with a Loudoun Chamber of Commerce roundtable, Kaine headed to Purcellville to learn how 12-year-old Catoctin Creek Distilling Co. was weathering the pandemic.

No sooner had Kaine crossed the threshold of the distillery’s tasting room and elbow-bumped owners Becky and Scott Harris than the three began talking about the transatlantic tariffs that have disrupted Catoctin Creek’s opportunity for expansion nearly as much as the pandemic itself. 

L to R: Scott and Becky Harris with Sen. Tim Kaine

Scott, general manager, explained the situation. “The current 25 percent tariffs on American whisky are set to rise to 50 percent by June if no action is taken. The USA has removed its tariffs on European Union spirits, so a reciprocal move by the EU is certainly expected. Kaine could help us in this effort to remove tariffs by using the authority of his office as senator to contact Ms. Katherine Tai, U.S. Trade Representative, to encourage her to make a priority of negotiating with the European Union to remove all these tariffs.” 

Kaine didn’t miss a beat. “I’ll get right on it,” he said.

Of course, the pandemic has hurt Catoctin Creek Distillery’s sales as well as patronage and events at their Purcellville tasting room; membership in their tasting clubs; distribution channels, and sales at retail outlets. 

Catoctin Creek sources locally, which spares the Harrises disruptions in supply lines. “One of the benefits of sourcing locally is that our supply lines are not disrupted by global shipping issues, like the Suez Canal debacle right now,” Scott explained. “However, our corks do come from Europe, and those have been significantly delayed by the COVID pandemic, which caused ports to slow down due to furloughed workforces.”

For Catoctin Creek chief distiller Becky Harris, the pandemic has brought not only interruptions in normal production but, with her election as board president of the American Craft Distillers Association last spring, she also has had to take on responsibilities involving the implementation and FDA compliance of hand sanitizer production by distillers. Then, at year’s end, when the FDA surprised distillers with $23,433 in fees due to that COVID-19 effort, she joined forces with other industry leaders in gaining an immediate repeal, and apologies from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

“New equipment is being fabricated presently and is slated to arrive on July 25,” said Becky. “When it arrives, and we get it up and running, it will allow us to triple our current production.” 

“We’re planning a ribbon cutting for sometime in August,” she told Kaine, asking if he’d come. 

 “Wouldn’t miss it!” said the senator.

Now, if you’ve always wondered whether it’s whisky or whiskey, Scott Harris has your answer: “It’s a tricky thing. Context is important. Generally, whiskey is American or Irish; whisky is Scottish or Canadian. However, there are exceptions. For example, Catoctin Creek spells it whisky to pay homage to our Scottish ancestors (as do some other companies like Maker’s Mark).”

Kaine was hardly concerned about spelling. Before leaving to visit Mom’s Apple Pie in Round Hill, he stopped in the tasting room shop, leaving a happy man with two bottles of Catoctin Creek Roundstone Rye 92 Proof “Distiller’s Edition,” rated 94 points by Wine Enthusiast and their #3 rye whisky in the nation last year.

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