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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Castle & Key Bourbon Small Batch #2

We recently took our daughter and friend to tour the Castle & Key Distillery - based at the former Old Taylor Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky. In typical fashion - to tour the historic grounds prior to the tour- we arrived 45 minutes early. As we noticed a line forming outside the property. Could they be releasing something special? Did we arrive in time? Indeed they were releasing something special, and, indeed, we were in line in time to snag one of the limited run of Castle & Key Bourbon Small Batch #2.

Good Things Come in Old Bottles

In 2014, partners Will Arvin and Wes Murry purchased the abandoned Old Taylor Distillery and began their renovation efforts. Upwards of $30 million later, the site is truly one of the bourbon gems in Kentucky. As they reclaimed the facility from what the pickers, salvagers, and Mother Nature had left, one unique find was an original bottle of Old Taylor bourbon, distilled in 1917, and buried behind a wall.

Castle & Key's first master distiller - Marianne Eaves - was able to deconstruct the mash bill, uncover the chemical compounds, and find a similar yeast strain to the bourbon using gas chromatography. Her scientific work discovered that the pre-Prohibition bourbon had a rich and creamy, sweet butterscotch note. While Marianne has moved on to other pursuits, I have truly been anticipating a taste of this bourbon to sample her craftsmanship. Today, a platoon of more than a dozen staff members serve on a "tasting committee" to determine when the bourbon is ready to bottle.

The Tasting

While we missed the 1st batch of Castle & Key Bourbon Small Batch, this sample is from Batch #2 and bottle number 6699. The heavy glass bottle, with a stopper fashioned after the chandelier in the Grecian-style springhouse, carries a 4-year age statement. The mash bill is 73% white corn, 10% rye, and 17% malted barley. Batch #2 was blended from about 80 barrels and bottled at 99 proof.

Color: Medium copper with thin, wispy legs displayed inside the Glencairn glass.

Nose: Chewy caramel candy and butterscotch disks, with some light orchard fruit blossoms. There is also the delightful scent of warm, summertime rickhouse.

Palate: Butterscotch is front and center, followed by apple, oak spice, light grains, and fresh hay (coming from the high malted barley, perhaps?). This is sweet, but balances nicely with the wood and spice notes. With the second taste, there were subtle spearmint notes detected, as well.

Finish: Caramel and peppery spice, followed quickly by wood char and malted cereal grains.

Overall: This is a great bourbon ... if you're lucky enough to find a bottle. At the distillery, we secured a bottle for $50. While there are other, longer-aged bourbons at this price point, the butterscotch flavors in this bourbon taste like one that has been aged longer than four years.

The presentation equally matches the uniqueness of the bourbon inside and will be one that will attract experts and novices alike to sample from your bourbon display. Our tour guide shared that a Bottled-in-Bond expression is still "on the slate". We'll be anxiously awaiting that longer-aged spirit!

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