Old Taylor Distillery

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.






History

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

Decline

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.

Restoration

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.

Bottling Plant

Offices

Power House

“Riney-B” Train Station

Spring House

Warehouses

Other






Further Reading


Sources

  1. Lipman, John F. “The GHOSTS of WHISKIES PAST.” 1999. 14 July 2005 Article.
  2. Cowdery, Charles K. “Distillery Destruction — Saving Kentucky’s Heritage.” 7 Apr. 2005. The Cultured Traveler. 14 July 2005 Article.
  3. Hogan, Meghan. “Low Spirits in Kentucky.” 23 June 2005. Preservation Online. 14 July 2005 Article.
  4. Jones, Amos. “Old Taylor Distillery coming alive with renovation plans.” Herald-Leader (Lexington), Jan. 7, 1997. March 28, 2007.
  5. Brady, Scott. Interview.
  6. “History of the Old Taylor Distillery.” Heart Pine Reserve 2006. 8 April 2010 Article.
  7. Richardson, Kerri and Terry Sebastian. “Peristyle LLC to Reopen Old Taylor Distillery in Millville.” Kentucky.gov 8 May 2014. Web. 19 May 2014. Article.
  8. “Peristyle LLC to reopen Old Taylor Distillery in Woodford County.” Lane Report [Louisville] 8 May 2014. Web. 19 May 2014. Article.
  9. Patton, Janet. “Old Taylor Distillery’s owners resurrecting its castle, gardens.” Herald-Leader [Lexington] 14 Jun. 2014. Web. 7 Apr. 2015.
  10. Minnick, Fred. “FORMER OLD TAYLOR DISTILLERY TO NAME WOMAN ITS BOURBON MASTER DISTILLER.” Fred Minnick 21 Feb. 2015. Web. 7 Apr. 2015. Article.
  11. Patton, Janet. “Old Taylor distillery in Woodford County renamed Castle & Key” Herald-Leader [Lexington] 29 Feb. 2016. Web. 15 Mar. 2016. Article.
  12. “Timelines: National Distillers.” Whiskey ID. Article.
  13. “Story.” Castle & Key. Article.

42 Comments

  1. We inherited a bottle from a friend’s deceased relative because they don’t drink and the bottle was half enjoyed but we are very curious about the age of it. Is there a site that you can put in the seal label number and find out? It was a 4 year old bourbon whiskey at the point it was bottled.

  2. I served aboard the USS Yorktown CVS-10 1967-1968 and will be going to the ships reunion this week. I will share this article with his former shipmates. Rest in peace……Withrow
    Bill Hatt

  3. I have a full color, full page CJ ad of Tinsley-Mayer art of the Old Taylor Distillery showing a girl on a hill overlooking the distillery property. She is holding a stalk of corn in one arm and in the other, a bunch of grain. Any interest?

    1. This advertising artwork sounds interesting. I’m wondering if there may be some indication of the date published or created? Does it appear to be preprohibition era? In other words before 1920 the distillery was owned and run by E.H. Taylor, Jr. & Sons. During national prohibition of alcohol 1920-33 American Medicinal Spirits owned the rights to the brand as well as creating and recycling others such as Old Grand Dad; after 1936 National Distillers Corp. Which evolved out of AMS owned the plant and brand along with other former Taylor family properties and some not even making Bourbon in Kentucky for example Old Crow, Grand Dad, Kenner Taylor, Mount Vernon Straight Rye, Old Overholt Rye, etc. I don’t think I have seen a piece like the one you mentioned but if it is in line with Old Crow advertising which was branded by E.H. Taylor, Jr. after the end of the Civil War when he acquired it from the will of Oscar Pepper proprietor of what is now Woodford Reserve Distillery where the Scotsman Dr. James Crow further refined, measured and recorded the basis of what is now known as the “Sour Mash” Method. Col. Taylor acquired what remained of the Fine Kentucky Bourbon Dr. Crow made from the mid 1820s until his sudden death at work in 1856 & created possibly the most prestigious brand of whiskey in the U.S. from what was some of the finest in quality and purity ever barreled. Gen. Ulysses S. Grant (as well as some C.S.A. Generals), Kentucky Senator Henry Clay, statesman Daniel Webster, and many more since heralded it as their favorite whiskey. In the original advertisements of Old Crow the Crow is holding barley stalks in its talons. My guess is the girl is holding corn in one hand and barley malt in the other.

  4. Would they allow people to metal detector? It would be cool to see what history lays in the ground there 🙂

  5. I have an OLD TAYLOR crock with S? Taylor Jr & Sons stamped in script. Underneath that it has DISTILLERS, FRANKFORT, KY. Have any idea of age, value? It is approximately 9″ tall and 3″ in diameter. Also, still has a cork.

  6. I have a crock with “OLD TAYLOR” stamped on it. Also, S? Taylor Jr & Sons written in script with Distillers, Frankfort, Ky. It is 9″ tall and about 3″ in diameter. It was given to me about 40 years ago by a very dear old lady. Can you tell me anything about it? Age value, etc. Thank you

  7. David, I have a bottle of Old Taylor 86 Proof Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey that, I was told, was bought in 1947 here in Alabama. Has the Alabama Alcoholic Beverage Board sticker on it, never been opened. Would like to know the estimated value of this Whiskey. Do you know of any collectors of Old Taylor Whiskeys?
    I am making a trip to Cumberland Lake in late September and would love our group of 7 to be able to tour the ruins. Who would I get in touch with to make arrangements. Thanks for all your help and thanks for your interest in The Old Taylor Distillery Company. Joan

  8. Back in the 60s, Old Taylor used the slogan, “If your distillery looks like a castle, your whiskey should be fit for a king”.

  9. I am the Distiller that helped Tito Beveridge start Tito's Vodka. I won the Double Gold at the World's Spirits Festival with Vodka I produced in 2001. I am looking for a new place to make liquor. If someone is interested in starting a distillery, contact me. JeffThurmon.com

        1. Colin,
          Just viewed property tonight. It is available. If you are interested in purchasing, please call me at 502-664-4446.
          Thx

  10. I belong to a photo group that part of deals with urban explorers. They generate publicity about abandon buildings set for demo if you would be interested in setting up a scheduled shoot we would love to help you out. Bob

  11. Stone Castle Properties had two partners – Robert Sims and Cecil Withrow. I don't know about finance issues stopping their progress, but I do know that Mr. Withrow passed away and project ended there and 30 acres of the property was given to Withrows Son and the rest of the property was put up for sale.

    Mr. Sims was the finance and business brains behind this and Mr. Withrow was the vision and driving force. Without withrow who was employed at Old Crow for 10 years and knew the industry of Bourbon, there was nobody else to fill the spot.

    I am seeking investors right now to start up the project again.

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