Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Castle & Key. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.
The decline in the popularity of bourbon in the 60s and 70s heralded the closure of several once famous whiskey producers. We fortunate folk are living in a time of rebirth for these once crumbling sites, such as the restored property that now houses Castle & Key in Frankfort, Kentucky.
In 1887, Colonel E.H. Taylor built the sprawling complex, which includes visually striking and fascinating buildings such as a key-shaped Springhouse that, as the name suggests, housed and houses again the distillery’s aquifer. There is indeed a castle on the grounds next to a whimsical train station that the Colonel used to draw visitors to the grounds long before touring distilleries began a popular pastime. The distillery, known as Old Taylor Distillery, shuttered in 1972 and the grounds were abandoned for four decades.
Fast-forward to 2014, and Will Arvin and Wes Murry purchased the rundown grounds with the aim of restoring them to their former glory and perhaps heights beyond (Arvin is now the sole owner). In late 2018, with enough repairs completed, they reopened the site to visitors, welcoming guests to multiple tasting rooms and garden walks along the Glenns Creek.
In another restoration of sorts, the distillery became Kentucky’s first since before Prohibition to employ a female Master Distiller, Marianne Eaves. She oversaw the gin, rye, and vodka program, focused on sourcing local grains for the distillery, and also oversaw the birth of the bourbon program, though she left in 2019 to pursue other interests. There is some intrigue over why she left, but her statements have been nothing but courteous and no information is available from the distillery on the subject. Today Arvin manages the distillery with the assistance of R&D Manager, Jon Brown, and Head Blender, Brett Connors.
The Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1 is the first bourbon released by the distillery. Launched on March 26th of 2022 in snappy packaging, it sold out within minutes at the distillery door. Originally sold for $50, it’s going for over $300 on the secondary market.
Those wanting to sample the distillery’s work without forking over this amount of coin should look to Batch 2, which was distributed out of state and is still available online, or subsequent releases. Don’t sleep too long on any offer, should this be of interest, though. The bourbons are produced in fairly small quantities. Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1 is a blend of 80 barrels.
Tasting Notes: Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Whiskey Batch 1
Vital Stats: Aged for four years in new American oak, 49% ABV, mash bill: 73% white corn, 17% malted barley, and 10% rye, SRP $50/750ml bottle but reselling for around $300/750ml.
Appearance: Pale golden amber.
Nose: Opens with aromas of the fall: sweet caramel corn, hay, and baking spices. The aroma is moderate in strength and quite appealing. As it opens in the glass, floral notes unfurl into fresh rose and geranium.
Palate: On the palate, it opens more savory than the sweet aromas would suggest. There’s a meaty character like rare roast beef over more notes of sweet caramel and butter toffee. The mouthfeel comes off as peppery with a gentle astringency. I enjoy the lingering warmth and buttery caramel note which morphs into a hint of herbal bitterness on finish that is quite pleasant. With a dash of water, the aromatics take on a maple sugar and cola spice note. This is quite pleasant.