Why this bourbon is one of the most anticipated releases of the year. And where to find it

If there’s one thing bourbon can teach us, it’s patience. No matter how much any of us may want to try an exciting new-to-the-world bourbon, we simply have to wait until it’s ready.

And then? All bets are off.

People from across the country started lining up the evening before Castle & Key Distillery4445 McCracken Pike, Frankfort, released its inaugural bourbon at a celebration on March 26.

I joined the throngs at what felt like a (post-pandemic second) rebirth of the distillery, which is the new life given to the old “Old Taylor” distillery. The buildings and grounds, abandoned for decades, were crumbling and giving way to nature’s hold when Will Arvin and Wes Murry bought it in 2014. And while I was there last Saturday to observe this big day, I was as over the moon excited as many of the visitors — not to mention the team behind this milestone.

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A few days later, I caught up with Castle & Key’s head blender Brett Connors to get the inside story on the revival of the distillery and that long-awaited bourbon, in the making for more than four years.

So what would compel people to drive thousands of miles and line up the day before to purchase a bourbon they’ve never tasted? And how does that feel for the folks behind it?

Only 800 barrels of Castle &  Key's inaugural bourbon were made.

Only 800 barrels of Castle & Key’s inaugural bourbon were made.

“It’s pretty overwhelming to have that outpouring of support,” Connors said. “And in a lot of ways, I think it validates a project that has been part of our lives and part of our souls for over eight years now. … On any kind of entrepreneurial projects, you think you’re doing the right things because you have to think you’re doing the right things, you know, you have to kind of go with your gut on it. And I think the way it was received and the excitement around it just shows us that we’ve been doing it the right way.”

Personally, I couldn’t wait to try it after having sampled the young distillate on a media preview visit to the distillery in 2018, which followed visiting the grounds in 2016 when then-master distiller Marianne Eaves stood on a pile of rubble that would become the stunning visitor’s center, and showed media the still-wrapped copper still.

For those who’ve followed along from afar, it may just come down to people’s attraction to the story, Connors said, and connecting over a passion.

Castle &  Key Distillery in Kentucky is open for visitors Thursday through Sunday.

Castle & Key Distillery in Kentucky is open for visitors Thursday through Sunday.

Fans “love the idea of ​​preserving history,” he said, “of revitalizing, renovating and restoring … it’s kind of a direct rebuke to planned obsolescence, the current culture we live in where everything’s made to throw away and if you don’t like it, you just bulldoze it.”

And, he went on, “I think there’s also an aspect of being a dreamer, you know.”

The distillery was built on a dream and a passion when founding partner Will Arvin left his law practice to “buy a 113-acre distillery on the outskirts of Frankfort in Millville Kentucky,” he said. “You just have to have a dream, you have to have a passion in life. And I think people are attracted to each other’s passions.”

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And in the instance of this passion, this dream, the result is tangible. It’s as solid as the limestone castle and as true as the fire that warms the soul when you take that first sip on a windswept early spring Kentucky day.

Bourbon fuels many a dream, I daresay (some of my best ideas come after a dram or two!), but experiencing firsthand that people with enough fire in the belly (and resources, to be fair) can realize a dream may stoke the fires of our own burning wishes.

Courier Journalist columnist Dana McMahan visited Castle &  Key Distillery on release day to sample the inaugural bourbon release.

Courier Journalist columnist Dana McMahan visited Castle & Key Distillery on release day to sample the inaugural bourbon release.

I can’t speak for everyone who came here excited to sip that bourbon, but what makes this especially meaningful for me is that buying into this dream, paying for a bottle of this bourbon, helps further the vision and is creating a magical place in the heart of Kentucky for visitors.

With every bottle that’s sold, Connors said, “that money is truly going back into growing and preserving the site which is subsequently preserving a piece of Kentucky’s history.”

And that’s an important piece that everyone can enjoy, whether or not they’re even bourbon drinkers.

“With the grounds open to the public Thursday through Sunday, anyone who’s just excited about the facility can come down the site and walk the botanical trail and sit by the creek and you’re welcome to bring a picnic,” he said.

The springhouse at Castle &  Key Distillery is a must-visit on a tour of the grounds.

The springhouse at Castle & Key Distillery is a must-visit on a tour of the grounds.

Now, about that inaugural Castle & Key bourbon.

Not everyone got to take a bottle home; after all, this first batch was fairly limited and the bottles sold out in minutes.

For those that did, Connors has one wish: “please open it up and drink it. We want people to be able to taste our hard work.”

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The Castle & Key team has spent the last several years tasting and waiting, waiting and tasting, until the bourbon was ready. Then they determined it wanted just a kiss of our sweet limestone-filtered water to make it perfect. No, it’s not barrel proof, as apparently a couple naysayers observed according to Connors, but the bourbon’s caretakers—who know best, after all—found that proofing it down just a couple of points let the bourbon live its best life at 98-proof .

That’s where all that dreamy hazelnut/Nutella emerges (courtesy of the unusually high ratio of malted barley in the grain bill), where the mouthfeel goes round and full, where the aroma of brown butter hits, and where the luscious undercurrents of dates and bread dough arrives.

The Castle &  Key Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

The Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfort, Kentucky.

It is, indeed, one dreamy bottle of bourbon. And priced at $50, it is just as comfortable in a delicious cocktail as it is in a Glencairn glass, neat.

The small-batch bourbon is available in several states, and while the distillery sold out of the bottles right away, as of press time, it was still possible to order it by the pour at their bar, or in their Paper Train cocktail, a riff on the classic Paper Plane that pays homage to the train that the original Colonel Taylor ran to the castle.

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And they’re only getting started.

Batch 2 is on its way later this spring, and they’ll just keep refining as they go. It’s just up to us to settle in and wait. We’ve all waited throughout lockdowns and cycles and phases of re-openings (all while the bourbon was transforming from clear fire to a sweet sipper), so we should be old hands at this by now.

If we need help, just look at the whiskey.

“Bourbon is such a perfect example,” Connors said. “It’s patience. It teaches us to slow down.”

Tell Dana! Send your restaurant “Dish” to Dana McMahan at [email protected] and follow @bourbonbarbarella on Instagram.

This article originally appeared on Louisville Courier Journal: Castle & Key Distillery in Frankfurt launches its inaugural bourbon

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