Castle & Key: Building a contemporary spirits company from the ruins
To say that Castle & Key is a historic renovation project is to stretch the term to breaking. The property was in such dramatic disrepair that they found an additional building once they started cutting back the honeysuckle. One whole building buried in greenery. While renovation feels a little anemic, historic is definitely accurate.
Castle & Key sits on the Old Taylor Distillery property built in 1887. Old Taylor was significant for two main things: for being the first bourbon tourism destination (going so far as constructing a train line to the property) and making great bourbon (Colonel Taylor pushed for the Bottled in Bond Act that protected consumers against fake or watered down spirits). The distillery thrived until the 1920s. They were shuttered during Prohibition and never really came back to strength.
It was then that the ivy and other invasives started to reclaim the creekside. Vandals left their mark. One of the owners had a scrap company and removed old timbers, bricks, fixtures, and copper stills to sell upmarket. By the time the property caught the current owners’ attention in 2012, it was featured prominently in urban decay photography journals alongside forgotten theatres, shopping malls, and amusement parks.
But, there was still a lot to work with. Colonel Taylor had a preference for European architecture, even if it was a bit eclectic. The property included a castle and a key-shaped traditional springhouse (hence the name). The property included a sunken garden that has been restored by landscape designer, Jon Carloftis. The springhouse continues to replenish itself with the mineral-rich limestone-filtered water that made it (and continues to make it) a perfect location for making whiskey.
While the rebirth of the property is spectacular, what makes it especially compelling is the company’s vision. It would be easy for them to recreate another bourbon distillery. To sit on the front porch and sip a cocktail. But, they aren’t satisfied with that. They are recreating how spirits are made and sold in Kentucky by focusing on seasonal releases with variety and character when the industry values consistency. And, since Kentucky is the best in the world at distilling spirits, they redefine what it means to be a distillery today.