When we toured Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky, the only spirits available were artisanal gin and vodka. The bottled-in-bond bourbon they were producing was going to have to wait. Recent products from the Pinhook line have arrived on the scene that were contract distilled and aged on site. Late 2020, the first Castle & Key product – a 3-year-old rye whiskey – was introduced with much anticipation.
The Original Bourbon Trail
Founders Will Arvin and Wes Murry have spent upwards of $30 million restoring one of the most historic sites in Kentucky bourbon lore. While not part of the current Kentucky Bourbon Trail, the site of the Castle & Key – the former Old Taylor Distillery – can be called the original bourbon trail.
E.H. Taylor had, at one point, owned the O.F.C Distillery in Frankfort (current site of Buffalo Trace, and why Buffalo Trace has a bourbon carrying the E.H. Taylor name). In 1887, Taylor constructed the Old Taylor Distillery along Glenn’s Creek. With a springhouse that resembled a Roman bath, ornate English-style gardens, and a limestone distillery building looking like a medieval castle, Taylor wanted the ultimate tourist destination. He even built a special railroad spur, bringing visitors to the grounds and unloading at Taylorton Station.
Visitors flocked to the site and parties thrown on the grounds were legendary. All of that came to a screeching halt with Prohibition. Taylor wasn’t granted a medicinal license, so he sold the facility to the American Medicinal Spirits Company. The National Distillers Company modernized the facility in the 1950's and increased production … just in time for bourbon to begin its decades-long demise. Distilling ceased in 1974 and Beam purchased the distillery in the same year (it also owns nearby Old Crow Distillery around the corner).
Will and Wes purchased the abandoned eyesore in 2014 for just under $1 million. Spending millions, they undid the work that nature and salvagers had wrought upon the grounds. In 2016, they added the up-and-coming Marianne Eaves as Kentucky’s first female master distiller since Prohibition. Eaves left Castle & Key in 2019 to pursue other goals. She has since been instrumental in bringing several new bourbons to market through her consultations, including the well-respected Peyton Manning’s Sweeten’s Cove bourbon.
Fast forward to 2020 and the release of Castle & Key’s first aged spirit – Restoration Rye. This rye whiskey is made with 63% rye, 17% yellow corn, and 20% malted barley. The finished product is displayed in a beautiful, heavy bottle with a vintage label paying tribute to the restoration work undertaken at the breathtaking grounds.
This first release from Castle & Key was split into two batches. Batch #1 was from 60 barrels (13,200 bottles) and bottled at 103 proof; Batch #2 was 57 barrels (12,540 bottles) and bottled at 99 proof. Both batches retail for around $40. This particular tasting was bottle 4916 from batch number 1 and carries a 3-year age statement.
Color: Bright copper with thin, lacey legs in the Glencairn glass.
Nose: Rye spice is on the forefront, followed by layers of malted grains, mint, and dark chocolate.
Palate: Peppery spice with a slight sweetness. Smooth mouthfeel with more light mint and chocolate.
Finish: Medium in length with a snappy spice with traces of mint.
Overall: This is unique rye expression. Many rye whiskeys have fallen into two camps – one that’s near 100% rye and others that just barely cross the 51% threshold to be called a rye whiskey. With a lower corn percentage and higher malt content in the mash bill, there were nice layers of rye, chocolate, mint, and malted grains.
I’m normally not a huge rye whiskey consumer but enjoyed this expression. It will interesting to see what future releases come from Castle & Key and will anxiously await the bourbon that’s patiently aging and had its start with Marianne.