Old Taylor Distillery
Old Taylor Distillery is a formerly abandoned distillery along Glenn’s Creek near Frankfort, Kentucky. The complex is currently being restored for Castle & Key, an upstart distillery.
E.H. Taylor, Jr. constructed Old Taylor Distillery in 1887. 1 4 7 Old Taylor was known for being the first to produce one million cases of straight bourbon whiskey.
Taylor, a descendant of two presidents, James Madison, and Zachary Taylor, benefited from political connections in Frankfort. He served as a 16-year mayor of Frankfort, as a state representative, and as a senator. 2
As a politician, Taylor spent time revitalizing an industry that had little confidence from consumers due to product quality, passing laws that would ensure a higher standard. One such instance was the passage of the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a federal subsidy via a tax abatement for products produced under particular government standards. 6 7
Old Taylor Distillery was considered a showcase of bourbon making in the entire state. 1 2 A peristyle spring house, sunken gardens, stone bridges, gazebos, and castle-like buildings adorned with turrets surrounded the 82-acre property, 6 giving it a charming yet imposing composition. The main offices and plant were accented with Tyrone, Kentucky limestone. 4 Inside were gardens and rooms were Taylor entertained guests, state officials, and dignitaries. 2 3
Old Taylor was as much as a tourist attraction as a distillery. Visitors arrived on the Richmond, Nicholasville, Irvine & Beattyville Railroad, or the “Riney-B,” where they would be given a tour of the facility. Each was given miniature bottles of Old Taylor whiskey as a souvenir. 9 The proximity of Old Crow Distillery was a boom to both distilleries, as both shared warehouses and some production machinery.
Old Taylor was the first distillery to reach one million U.S. Government certified cases of straight bourbon whiskey. 6 7
Old Taylor Distillery remained in local control after Taylor died in 1922 6 until National Distillers acquired the operation in 1935. 4 6 9 National Distillers, formed out of a merger in 1924, 12 operated Old Taylor until 1972. 4 6 9 12
In 1987, Jim Beam purchased National Distillers, who used the warehouses to store and age bourbon whiskey. 4 6 9 A portion of the plant, including the bottling facilities and some old warehouses, was declared surplus in 1994. Jim Beam sold the Old Taylor brand to Sazerac in 2009. 12
Cecil Withrow, a former employee of National Distillers, and his business partner, Robert Sims, purchased the Old Taylor site for $400,000 and incorporated Stone Castle Properties. 1 4 Stone Castle’s goal was to renovate the buildings into a mixed-business operation by 1999 and include:
- An artisan “mall” in the former bottling house
- A natural spring water bottling operation from the adjacent Bird’s Eye limestone spring
- A bourbon whiskey distilling business, which would have involved aging whiskey in white oak barrels for four years. Initial production was pegged at 5,000 cases of whiskey per year under the Stone Castle Whiskey brand. 4
Renovations began on 1½ million square feet of the old distillery in late 1996. 4 The artisan center opened on February 1, 1997, but financing complications forced the abandonment of the natural spring water bottling plant and the bourbon whiskey plant. The artisan center closed not long after it opened.
Old Taylor was sold to Scott Brady in May 2005. 5 Brady began to selectively tear down several warehouses that were in states of collapse and resold the wood under Heart Pine Reserve.
In May 2014, Will Arvin, a lawyer, partnered with Wes Murry, 13 to acquire the abandoned Old Taylor Distillery property for $950,000 9 and announced plans to reopen distilling operations on the site. 7 8 The duo incorporated Peristyle to fulfill the effort.
Arvin and Murry called for renovating the dilapidated buildings for $6.1 million and create ten full-time jobs by the fall of 2015. 9 The Kentucky Economic Development Finance Authority tentatively approved the distillery for up to $200,000 in tax incentives through the Kentucky Business Investment program and for up to $50,000 in tax benefits through the Kentucky Enterprise Initiative Act.
In February 2015, the company announced that Marianne Barnes would become the master distiller at the new distillery. 10 Barnes, a former master taster at Brown-Forman and an assistant at Old Forester, was the first female master distiller since Prohibition. 10 13 A new still from Vendome Copper and Brass Works of Louisville, with a 12,000 barrel per year capacity, was installed in October. 11
Playing off the castle-like buildings on-site, the new bourbon whiskey operations was named Castle & Key in February 2016. 11 Production of Castle & Key’s bottled-in-bond bourbon began in the summer. It is to be followed by a botanical gin, flavored with plants native to Kentucky, in 2018.