A little over six years ago, my friend, Janet Patton, the distilling industry reporter for the Lexington Herald-Leader, called me. She had been contacted by Will Arvin, one of the purchasers of the Old Taylor Distillery in Millville, Ky. and was invited to take a tour of the site and hear their plans for reviving the old distillery. She wanted to know if I would like to meet her there and join the tour. I, of course, said I would love to do so. I love walking around old distilleries and this was one I had not seen up close. I met her at the distillery and Will gave us the tour. The property was still in a rough shape since it had been closed for decades and pretty much abandoned for several years before Arvin and his business partner, Wes Murry, purchased the distillery. There were small trees and high grass growing out of buildings and over the road. The sunken garden was cleaned up some, but they were still working on clearing the weeds and planting the flowers and shrubs. The distillery was a mess, with falling ceilings and large rocks from the castle walls thrown through the roof. The original warehouse needed roof work and the later warehouse built by National Distillers, lacked barrel racks. It was going to be a difficult and expensive job to get this distillery back into shape for whiskey production.
I would return many times over the years since that first visit, and I was always astonished at the progress that was made to improve the site. They were returning the gardens and the springhouse back to a more or less, original condition. Other parts of the site were being stabilized and made functional, but they kept some of that “industrial decay” look so that visitors could see what had been done since they acquired the site. This was costing a lot of money, and made even more difficult by having to defend themselves from a lawsuit filed against them by Buffalo Trace. Will and Wes persevered and won the lawsuit and continued to make improvements at the distillery. They hired Marianne Eaves to be their Master Distiller and she oversaw the construction of the new stills and developed mash bills for their whiskeys and started making gin and vodka to help pay the bills. The gin that they have released is a very good product and makes a great gin and tonic. The distillery improved and they finally reached a point where they could open the site to tourism.
Marianne Eaves has since left the company and they have decided not to replace her with another Master Distiller at this time and feel confident that they have assembled enough talent in their team to continue to make good spirits. The pandemic hit just as they were hoping to get the tourism side running full time and open the site to more event rentals. This has set back their business plan by a year, but not their distilling. This year, 2020 has been a tough one, but they still have managed to release their first aged whiskey, Restoration Rye. This rye is made with 63% rye, 17% yellow corn, and 20% barley malt. Here are my tasting notes of the whiskey:
Restoration Rye, Batch Two
Age: Three Years
Nose: Rye grass, a little fruit – maybe citrus or apricot/peach, vanilla, with a hint of baking spice and oak.
Taste: Rye grass, apricot fruit with a hint of chocolate and vanilla, a little white pepper spice and oak. When tasted with a dried cranberry, rye grass comes forward with notes of dates and milk chocolate. When tasted with a pecan, the citrus, a hint of oranges, and apricot come forward, with less rye grassiness and spice, but a little more oak.
Finish: Medium long with some notes of dark chocolate, white pepper and oak. The dried cranberry makes the finish very peppery with some balancing notes of fruit and chocolate. The pecan makes the finish less spicy and more of a dry, oak wood finish with a little vanilla and citrus sweetness.
I would pair this fine rye whiskey with a Padron 1964 cigar. I think the cigar smoke is very complex with lots of vanilla and chocolate notes balanced by cedar spiciness and earthy tobacco that would complement the spiciness and sweeter chocolate notes of the rye.
Castle & Key has come a long way in the last six years. They have turned a derelict distillery into a real showplace for visitors and they are bottling excellent aged whiskey. The year 2021 looks to be a promising year with a covid 19 vaccine allowing for the return of tourism at the distillery and further releases of aged whiskey as well as their gins and vodka. I look forward to making a visit there later this year.
Photos Courtesy of Rosemary Miller