Have you ever traveled to a place that felt magical? A place that is over the top beautiful or just makes you feel like you’re in a fairytale? I can recommend such a place that is just a few minutes and a lovely drive from Lexington and Frankfort, Kentucky.
Several weeks ago I was invited to visit Castle & Key Distillery for an event prior to its public opening. Castle & Key Distillery is a magical place. There are very few places you can travel to these days that have the effect of transporting you to a different place and time. Castle & Key Distillery is just such a place.
The distillery is located in Woodford County about 5 miles from Frankfort on 113 acres of land. As with most distilleries, it’s located by water. The historic property was formerly known as Old Taylor Distillery and was built in 1887. A scenic drive takes you through a community called Millville. It’s almost like ‘time travel.’ Interestingly, Millville got its name from to the number of flour and grist mills that used to be located in the area.
One of my friends used to tell me about how in the old days the gardens of Old Taylor Distillery were so beautiful. He said Colonel Taylor wanted a showplace and replicated beautiful gardens he visited in Europe. I wish my friend was still here to see how the property has been transformed into the original storybook place that Colonel Taylor built! He would have loved it.
I grew up in Frankfort and I can remember going with the Girl Scouts to the Old Taylor Distillery. One of my fellow girl scout’s dad was one of the leaders of the distillery and we went for an educational tour one day. The primary building was very much like a castle in appearance. Now, that was a long time ago. Not too many years after my visit as a child, the distillery was abandoned. Without care and upkeep, the buildings soon became neglected. Overgrown trees and vines took over the beautiful buildings that we all loved. Most of the kids called it ‘the haunted castle.’
Fast forward to four years ago when two guys had a dream and bought the property. Founders Will Arvin and Wes Murry had the vision to restore the property to its original storybook setting. Thank goodness we have such visionary people in central Kentucky! Storytellers in a sense who inject vitality into the history, the period of decline and neglect, and the rehabilitation of such a special place.
When I arrived at the event that day I was directed to the outdoor space for cocktails. Since the distillery has only been opened for a short time, the bourbon isn’t ready yet and is ‘resting’ in the rick house. Castle & Key is currently producing vodka and gin since those spirits don’t really need to age as with bourbon. The welcoming cocktail that was served was called a Paw Paw Bramble. For those of you who don’t know, a Paw Paw is a fruit that is native to Kentucky. It’s not very pretty in its natural form, but when it’s pureed, its great. Sort of like a grapefruit but not as tart. It was mixed with vodka and served with a lemon peel garnish.
The distillery is named for the main building, which is of course, a ‘castle.’ The water source that is used to make the bourbon, is shaped like a key…..so that’s the origin of the name Castle & Key. The water used to make the bourbon continuously seeps through the surrounding limestone and into Glenn’s Creek. The outdoor space is highlighted by this unique feature.
Castle & Key Distillery is home to the only female master bourbon distiller in the country. Not since Prohibition has there been a woman in charge of bourbon distilling. Master Distiller Marianne Eaves is a breath of fresh air. She’s smart, she’s articulate and she’s a great role model…..that’s what I call Girl Power! As she describes the gin distilling process it sounds more like an adventure in the culinary world rather than distilling liquids. Castle & Key’s gin includes the traditional Juniper Berry and Angelica, but it also includes surprise ingredients such as Rosemary, Ginger, and Chamomile. There’s also Lemon Verbena and Corriander! Botanicals never tasted so good!
Marianne hosted a tasting for us in the sunken garden area. As I told you earlier, Colonel Taylor patterned the gardens from glorious European gardens. Local celebrity landscape designer John Carloftis has done a tremendous job using original trees and shrubs, as well as supplementing with new items keeping the green and white color scheme. It takes the garden party concept to a new level.
The castle building is the primary location for distilling bourbon, vodka, and gin. Gleaming copper and stainless steel vats represent new elements use to distill spirits while housed in the historic building. The gift shop is located in the same building. Because the building is on the National Register great care was taken in using original materials and keeping things intact. Original exposed brick and windows are highlighted by 8′ custom made metal chandeliers. It’s gorgeous!
As we walked the property on the way to the rick house it occurred to me that even the remaining buildings that are in total disrepair are singularly lovely and do not detract from the recent rehabilitation. There are several buildings on the property that were torn down in the 80’s. Such a shame.
The rick house is home to thousands of barrels of bourbon. Marianne estimated that the bourbon will be aged and ready for release around 2021. Now, for a little bourbon 101. The bourbon is stored and aged in a white oak barrel that has been charred. The charring process takes about 35 seconds for the natural gas flame to age the barrel, thus adding the charcoal. Each barrel weighs 98 pounds empty and 500 pounds when it is filled with bourbon, according to the barrel maker. The barrel doesn’t have any nails or glue so the staves are the only thing keeping the barrels together. During aging, the bourbon penetrates deep into the wood; as the barrel wood expands and contracts with changing seasonal temperatures in the rick house the bourbon’s taste is slowly and steadily influenced by the charred oak of the barrel.
Castle & Key even has a resident cat. Ricky is the master exterminator. He was dressed for the party.
The enclosed event space has exposed beams and is a spectacular place for a party. From the lounge areas to the open dining area, the facility is glamorous without feeling pretentious. It’s a great location for any type of event.
I have to admit that the Castle & Key Distillery certainly knows how to have an elegant event. From start to finish the event was absolute perfection! The Apiary catered the event, and it was a southern multi-course meal to remember. Signature cocktails were served, including a unique Gin and Tonic garnished with juniper berries.
Castle & Key has an excellent staff. They are very knowledgeable, professional and personable. As we walked the property I was blown away by a strong sense of Kentucky history, as well as the preservation efforts that have been undertaken. The Castle & Key distillery experience is something that you don’t want to miss! You will fall in love with this must-see travel destination. Until next week, xoxoxo.