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  • Writer's pictureJoseph Bourbon

Castle & Key Bourbon Small Batch #5

Castle & Key continues to breathe new life into the Old Taylor Distillery in Frankfort, turning out their own whiskey as well as contract distilling for several other brands, including Pinhook and Blue Run. Initial releases were scarcely found outside the distillery grounds, but now I'm seeing this even on Midwest shelves where we found this bottle of Castle & Key Bourbon Small Batch #5.

Worthy of a Visit

I've fielded several inquiries lately on tips for distillery visits and must-sees along the Kentucky Bourbon Trail. While consumers can debate the nuances of the spirits, it's hard to deny the loving care that partners Will Arvin and Wes Murry, along with their teams, have put into restoring the Old Taylor Distillery. If you've not visited the historic site, it needs to be on your must-see list, as its central location makes it an easy stop if visiting Buffalo Trace in nearby Frankfort or Woodford Reserve in Versailles.

Castle & Key's first master distiller - Marianne Eaves - was involved in the production of these early batches. Barrels around the warehouses have been grouped into "pods", with different batches exhibiting different characteristics and flavor profiles. Since her departure a couple years ago to break out on her own, a team of staff members serve on a "tasting committee" to determine when the bourbon is ready to bottle.

The Tasting

The mash bill is 73% white corn, 10% rye, and 17% malted barley. Batch #5 was blended from 60 barrels, aged at least 4 years, and bottled at 100 proof. From the website, we're told to expect caramel apple, baked peach, floral, mint, chocolate and cinnamon on the nose; toffee, salted peanut, baked peach, peppermint, graham cracker, and more spice on the palate; and pepper and eucalyptus on the finish.

Color: Medium copper with a host of medium legs, neatly spaced around the inside of my Glencairn glass.

Nose: Peach cobbler with a crunchy oatmeal topping hits first, followed by ripe apples and baking spices. A couple drops of water bring the cinnamon notes to the forefront.

Palate: Cinnamon and peppermint are present. While I do get some of the graham cracker notes, it's not nearly as prominent as the Woodford Reserve Malt Whiskey - this bourbon almost tends towards the grassier spectrum with freshly cut hay as well as striking a slightly grain and corn-forward taste. A couple drops of water brings more vanilla and butterscotch notes forward.

Finish: Long with pepper spice and vanilla bean.

Overall: Not bad ... At $50, this is a decent pour and the bottle that always looks good on your cabinet. Castle & Key is a bourbon that, due to their limited runs, is one that not everyone gets a chance to taste.

In terms of uniqueness, this batch deviates from some of the more traditional notes and flavors of vanilla and caramel. The peach and apple cobbler notes are somewhat unique. In some of the Four Roses products, you'll find more floral and blossom notes, as opposed to the finished fruit. I was also surprised by the minty notes - I've typically seen that in rye whiskeys and higher rye products. With only 10% of the mash bill allocated to rye, this caught me off guard. The higher proportion of malted barley, though, did strike with more grainy, oatmeal, and graham cracker-like notes.

Keep an eye out for future releases (there are generally several each year). On last year's tour, the guide shared that a Bottled-in-Bond expression is still "on the slate". Aged for 4 years and bottled at 100 proof, this one is getting pretty close to the requirements of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897.

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