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.
Colonel Edmund H. Taylor acquired property along Glenn’s Creek and Versailles Pike in Woodford County and established Old Taylor Distillery in 1887. 1 4 7 Taylor, a descendant of two presidents, James Madison, and Zachary Taylor, benefitted from his political connections in Frankfort, where he had served as mayor for 16 years and as a state representative and 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. He worked to pass the Bottled-in-Bond Act of 1897, a federal subsidy via a tax abatement for products produced under particular government standards that also ensured that what the distiller said was in the bottle matched its contents. 6 7
From its iteration, Old Taylor Distillery was designed to be a showcase for bourbon, a departure from earlier distilleries that were ramshackle operations with little regard for aesthetics. 1 2 Drawing heavily from his travels through Scotland, England, Ireland, and elsewhere in 1869, Tylor designed his 82-acre distillery complex with buildings that sported thick walls composed of local limestone from Tyrone, battlements at the roof line, and round corner towers. 4 6 14 Inside the plant’s walls were gardens and rooms where Taylor entertained guests, state officials, and dignitaries. 2 3
Old Taylor was as much 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
The passage of prohibition, a nationwide constitutional law that strictly prohibited the production, importation, transportation, and sale of alcoholic beverages, caused Old Taylor Distillery to close in 1920. 15 The facility remained in local control after Taylor died in 1922. 6
National Distillers, formed out of a merger in 1924, 12 acquired Old Taylor Distillery in 1935, 4 6 9 and operated the distillery under the Old Taylor name until 1972. 4 6 9 12
In 1987, National Distillers sold the plant to American Brands. 4 6 9 The James B. Beam Distillery then used its warehouses for storage. A portion of the Old Taylor campus, including the bottling plant and some warehouses, was declared surplus and abandoned. American Brands 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 former Old Taylor Distillery site for $400,000 and incorporated Stone Castle Properties to renovate some of the buildings. 1 4 The goal was to operate an artisan “mall” in the former bottling house, bottle natural spring water from the Bird’s Eye limestone spring, and start up a bourbon whiskey distillery under the Stone Castle Whiskey brand by 1999. 4
Renovations to the bottling plant began in late 1996 and the artisan “mall” opened on February 1, 1997. 4 Financing issues forced the abandonment of the spring water bottling plant and the bourbon whiskey distillery plans. The artisan mall closed not long after it opened.
The Old Taylor Distillery site was sold to Scott Brady in May 2005, who began to tear down several warehouses. 5 The wood salvaged was resold under the Heart Pine Reserve brand.
Castle & Key Distillery
In 2012, Will Arvin discovered photographs of the abandoned Old Taylor Distillery. 15 Seeing its potential, Arvin partnered with Wes Murry and acquired the facility in May 2014 for $950,000. 9 13 They announced plans to renovate the dila[odated complex and begin distilling operations on the site with ten employees by the fall of 2015 at the cost of $6.1 million. 7 8 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, became the first female master distiller since Prohibition. 10 13 A new copper column still from Vendome Copper & Brass Works of Louisville was installed in October. 11
The company also worked with famed fine gardener Jon Carloftis to restore the historic sunken gardens. 14
A nod to the castle-like architecture of the buildings and the key-shaped appearance of the spring house, Arvin and Murry named the new bourbon distillery Castle & Key in February 2016. 11 Production of Castle & Key’s bottled-in-bond bourbon began in the summer.
The Castle & Key Distillery complex was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 2017. 14 The company released its first clear spirit in April 2018, and in September, the distillery held a grand opening ceremony. 15 It was awarded the Ida Lee Willis Memorial Historic Preservation Project Award in 2019 for the company’s dedication to historic preservation. 14
Castle & Key’s first aged spirit, Restoration Rye, was released in December 2020. 15 In March 2022, the distillery released Small Batch Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, the first bourbon distillate that had been produced at the historic Old Taylor Distillery site in nearly five decades.