A Visit to Castle & Key: A Photo Essay, pt. 1

Back when I first started going on annual/semi-annual pilgrimages to Kentucky, I heard tale of two abandoned distilleries on McCracken Pike, near Frankfort Kentucky and even nearer to the Woodford Reserve (aka Labrot & Graham, aka Oscar Pepper) distillery. To get there, you turned left out of the Woodford reserve parking lot and kept going until you thought you were lost in the woods and needed to turn around. Then you went around a bend and a giant castle-like building virtually lept out of the woods at you. That was the Old Taylor Distillery (shuttered in 1972). Just a little down the road was the Old Crow distillery which was also interesting in its own right, but not nearly as impressive as the Castle, as it was called. You could park across the road at the collapsed office building if you wanted to take a look at the castle, but you had to look out for The Guy in the Red Truck, who was guarding the place. The Guy in the Red Truck was not a monster, though, and you could reason with him and he might let you get close and take pictures. He would also show you the grave of a Revolutionary soldier that he preserved nearby.

The Castle was wild looking and a little sad and occasionally spooky like in this picture I25784_422752045399_76845_n took on a rainy day in 2010. “Legit” whiskey bloggers (i.e. actual journalists) would occasionally get a chance to wander around and take pictures. At the time, we bourbon lovers all wondered what it would take to restore the building. The conventional wisdom was that the building would be too expensive to ever restore, let alone reuse.

We were wrong. The Old Taylor Castle is now being restored, thanks to the partners who own what is now called the Castle and Key (after the key shaped spring house) Distillery. In 2014 it was purchased for less than a million dollars from an Atlanta investor group that was selling the distillery buildings for scrap. The destruction was stopped and restoration was begun. The invester group managed to snag Marianne Barnes, rising star at Brown-Forman (makers of Old Forester, Early Times, Woodford Reserve and Jack Daniels), to be their master distiller. The intention is to produce gin, vodka, rye and bourbon. The Bourbon, at least, is going to be released as a mature, bottled-in-bond product.

In late April of this year (2017) a group of folks from StraightBourbon.com including yours truly, Mrs. Sipology Blog and friends of the blog Amy and Pete were graciously allowed a tour of the campus, even though it’s not open to the public yet. Here are some pictures I took. I hope you like them.

For a concise, illustrated history of the property check out http://www.distillerytrail.com/blog/castle-key-distillery-rising-ruins-old-taylor-distillery-narrowly-escaped-wrecking-ball/

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Botanical garden for gin on the site of a collapsed rickhouse near the parking lot at the back gate.
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Other side of the botanical garden. “World’s Longest Rickhouse” in background.
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Walking over to to World’s Longest Rickhouse (WLR), completed in 1917 with a capacity of 32,000 barrels (quite large for a rickhouse). It’s their main warehouse at present. Currently mostly occupied by other people’s whiskey (the rickhouse is highly regarded and a source of income for them), but C & K is now aging their whiskey in there too.
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The front tower of the WLR with tracks for rolling barrels around.
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My wife Liz peaking into the WLR at one of the 13,000 barrels currently stored there.
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Looking up at the WLR.
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Walking down the broad pathway flanked by old buildings over to Warehouse E (center right) and the distillery building (center).
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My friend Brian and I snuck off into one of the buildings on the side and discovered this picture of the castle.
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Same building as above. Strange but cool green glass panels.
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Building with barrel tracks going over the road. According to our guide, locals tell of when barrels would pop off the track onto the road for enterprising folks to recover.
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Toward Warehouse E
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The concrete monster that is Warehouse E.
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Inside the entrence to Warehouse E, which I dubbed “World’s Creepiest Warehouse”. Cave-like enviroment. Looks like a set out of one of the Blade movies.
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Taylor used brass bands for his barrels so Castle & Key sometimes use them for special ones.
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Walking over to the distillery building under the crenellated water tower.
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Had no idea my ex worked here! But seriously folks, more pics, including the castle itself, the springhouse, sunken garden and more next week!

 

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