Local distillery drinks in the sun

WASHINGTON – The hooch is still potent – what’s new is how the still is powered.

The first distillery since Prohibition in Loudoun County, has installed a large solar array on the roof of its historic home on Main Street in Purcellville, Va.

“We’re wrapping up installing a 41-kilowatt-hour system that will offset 85 percent of our electrical usage here at the distillery,” says Scott Harris, owner of Catoctin Creek Distillery. “That’s about the equivalent of five households of electricity generated.”

Bought in 2012, Catoctin Distillery produces rye whisky and gin from organic sources, brandy from Virginia wines, and seasonal brandy.

The facility, in the Case Building, which was erected in 1921, has a gently sloping roof with southern exposure.

Harris says the system, installed by Prospect Solar of Sterling, generates 41,000 watts of power every hour.

“It sees the sun most parts of the day. This huge array of solar cells, that fills this 6,000 square feet of roof, will start to collect that energy and feed it into our building,” says Harris.

Harris says his business won’t be the sole beneficiary of the energy collected by the solar panels.

“Anything that we’re not using on a down day, or on a particularly sunny day, will actually be fed into the grid for public use,” says Harris.


Stills in Catoctin Creek Distillery, in Purcellville, Va. (Courtesy Scott Harris)

Outfitting the new technology for the mostly brick building, that was originally a Buick dealership and later a furniture factory, did pose challenges.

“We had to make sure the wooden frame roof was sound,” says Harris. “Some of the struts and rafters were not up to code for the weight of the new system on the roof, so we had to replace those with some steel I-beams.”

Prior to the Civil War, Purcellville was linked by railroad to Alexandria, Va. and points east.

“Because it’s in an historic district, we had to be aware and respectful of the national historical codes for preservations,” says Harris.

Harris says the method of producing the spirits is largely the same as it was when Prohibition was repealed in 1933.

“A still is basically a big boiler. You can heat it with propane, with wood, or electricity. Ours are heated with steam and electricity,” says Harris.

Now, the still will be a bit more environmentally friendly, says Harris.


Catoctin Creek Distillery is built in historic 1921 building in downtown Purcellville. (Photo courtesy Scott Harris)

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