Inside the walls of a 19th century limestone castle in the heart of bourbon country, history is being honored—and made. Master Distiller Marianne Barnes and her team are painstakingly resurrecting the historic site of the former Old Taylor Distillery to produce their Castle & Key brand bourbon and gin. Production of Castle & Key’s flagship bottled-in-bond bourbon is planned to begin this summer. As Barnes puts it, “The core of Colonel Taylor’s vision with bottled-in-bond was building a relationship of trust with his consumer, providing a literal guarantee of bourbon’s authenticity and, by extension, quality. Our goal is to embrace and enhance that vision, creating products and sharing the story from the plow to the bottling line.” Castle & Key plans to introduce a KY native botanical recipe gin this year, rye whiskey by 2018, and, then, traditional style Bottled-in-Bond bourbon to honor the Colonel’s legacy.
When founding partners, Will Arvin and Wesley Murry, first saw the 1887 distillery, it had sat decaying for over 40 years. Despite decades of neglect, Arvin and Murry recognized the potential of the site with much of the existing buildings and equipment in a salvageable condition. “Under the rubble and overgrowth, there were 100 year old buildings that were still structurally sound and architecturally astounding, and while a number of people seemed to have passed on this hidden treasure, we knew it could be revived to make great spirits,” notes Arvin.
Combining vision, passion and talent, the team is bringing the distillery back to life using existing, new and repurposed equipment and materials. State of the art distillation equipment manufactured by Vendome Copper & Brass Works has recently been installed positioning Castle & Key to begin production this summer with an annual capacity of 12,000 barrels per year. In addition to distillation capabilities, the facility has two barrel storage buildings one of which is the longest bourbon rick house in the world measuring almost two football fields in length.
With this same uncompromising respect for both tradition and innovation, Barnes is crafting recipes using time-honored traditions and methods to create distinctive Bourbon and gin. Grains will be sourced from a local Kentucky farmer who is helping Barnes resurrect a strain similar to what would have been used during the prime of Colonel Taylor’s era.
“We’re very excited to be part of the revitalization of something important in the history of Kentucky bourbon whiskey, and integral in the momentum of the Bourbon Trail,” says Brook Smith, the investment partner who, among his many successes, created Post Parade wine.
Over a century before the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, Col. E.H. Taylor, Jr. had the vision to create a distillery that would be a destination for visitors, a notion far ahead of its time. The Castle & Key team is picking up where Taylor left off by carefully resurrecting the property and bringing it forward into the twenty-first century. From the renovation of the glorious grounds and structures, to the bourbon production, they are taking bourbon tourism to the next level. “It’s so encouraging to see how much people want to know about the bourbon they drink, who made it, where and how it’s made,” says Barnes. “Castle & Key is a destination that encourages people to be our guest, taste, see and enjoy a step back into bourbon history.”
The original 1887 formal sunken garden has been revived beyond its original splendor by world-renowned Kentucky fine gardener Jon Carloftis. Located at the foot of the towering castle, it features a koi pond with benches surrounded by greenery, southern magnolia and hydrangea. Carloftis also designed a quarter-mile botanical garden path from which Barnes will source botanicals for her gins.
A key to true Kentucky bourbon is the water. Castle & Key’s clear, limestone-rich source water bubbles up from the ground and fills a key hole-shaped pool under the restored 19th century springhouse. Facing the springhouse is a charming red brick train station—where guests arrived in private rail cars for Taylor’s famous Derby parties—that is planned to be transformed into a full-service restaurant. With Carloftis’ creative touch, other outbuildings will also be transformed into appealing event spaces for tastings, cocktail parties, weddings and private events. Bourbon aficionados and day-trippers will enjoy a Napa Valley experience at Castle & Key. Curated tours of the site, engaging tastings, leisurely strolls through the botanical garden, picnicking on the banks of Glenn’s Creek, or shopping inside a renovated boiler house are all experiences guests can expect and enjoy. A number of inter-active distillery experience itineraries will be available when the distillery plans to open to the public late summer of 2016. Follow the progress at CastleandKey.com.
As a student at the University of Louisville, Marianne wasn’t exactly sure how she would utilize her chemical engineering degree. In a stroke of fate, she accepted an auspicious internship at Brown-Forman, where she rose to the position of Master Taster in an unheard of five years. “Being mentored by Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris was one of the best things that ever happened to me. Learning from him really brought all of my studies and hard work together,” says Barnes. She holds the remarkable distinction of being the first woman to earn the title of Master Distiller of KY bourbon since Prohibition. With her technical knowledge, hands-on experience and a specialized palate, Barnes is destined to produce exceptional products at Castle & Key.