Should you start a distillery from scratch or renovate an existing distillery? That is the question. Each has its own unique advantages and disadvantages.
In the case of Wes Murry and Will Arvin, that question was answered in April 2014 when they purchased a dilapidated distillery that had been dormant and in a state of decay for nearly half a century. This is not just any distillery but a distillery built in 1887 by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. that was built from the ground up with an eye focused on entertaining, that was built to look like a modern day castle complete with its own moat and boasted a train depot that could easily receive tourists from the nearby capital city of Frankfort. Now, after 4.5 years of renovations and peeling back layer upon layer of neglect, the historic Old Taylor Distillery, now known as Castle & Key Distillery in Millville, Kentucky is once again making bourbon whiskey, has opened its doors to the public and has regained its rightful title as a tourist destination.
The Evolution from a Boutique Distillery to Major Player
To say this project has been a monumental undertaking would be an understatement. What started with a plan to build a boutique craft spirits distillery has expanded over the years. According to a 2014 press release from Kentucky’s Cabinet for Economic Development the original plan said, “The company plans to invest up to $6.1 million and create 10 full-time jobs.” Oh my how things have changed. The latest release from the state says, “Gov. Matt Bevin congratulated the company’s leaders on their $30 million renovation – a project expected to create 100 jobs in the coming years…” That’s a sizeable bump of 5x on the investment and 10x on the number of employees.
“In the middle of an international resurgence of Kentucky’s bourbon industry, we welcome Castle & Key as another crown jewel of spirits production, tourism and hospitality,” Gov. Bevin said. “I commend the owners’ vision to resurrect the historic property and their team’s tremendous effort in renovating and preserving the buildings and grounds, creating jobs and, as of today, opening to the public.”
Castle & Key Distillery Ribbon Cutting Ceremony
Watch the video below to see the momentous ribbon cutting with Governor Matt Bevin, Woodford County Judge John Coyle, Co-Founders Will Arvin and Wes Murry along with Master Distiller Marianne Eaves. After the video, scroll down to take a virtual walk through the distillery with our behind the scenes photo gallery.
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Hiring the Kentucky’s 1st Female Master Distiller Since Prohibition
Back in 2014, Castle & Key Distillery co-founders Murry and Arvin recognized they had a passion for the project but not distillation skills. In February 2015 they brought on partner Marianne Eaves, Kentucky’s first female Master Distiller since Prohibition, to lead their distillation operations. In a recent interview discussing their journey I asked the three of them, “If you had it to do all over, would you do it again?” Not surprisingly I heard, “In a heartbeat” from Will and Marianne. Wes was all in as well but added, “No question, in fact I’d be less fearful, more aggressive, I’d try to go faster. What we have here is so unique and we feel so lucky to have been blessed to stumble on it and see it here. Zero regrets, the only thing now is I’d be trying to find a way to take 4.5 years and turn it into 3.5 years.” You can watch the full 5 Questions Interview with Will, Wes and Marianne video here.
The original plan was to open the distillery to the public in the Spring of 2016 but as Will explained, “We wanted to do it right, as we started to peel back the layers of the onion we started finding things like railroad tracks that were buried under asphalt. It took us a little longer but we are finally here and this is a red letter day for us and we are super, super excited.”
Distillation restarted at the distillery in November 2016. As interest in their project grew and the world’s thirst for bourbon continued to grow it wasn’t too long before they starting talking about expansion plans. In July of this year, they had a third continuous column still installed by Vendome Copper & Brass Works. The original equipment includes a 24″ diameter, 39’4″ continuous copper column still with 19 plates for making bourbon and rye whiskey along with a 17″ diameter, 40′ tall stainless steel column still to make vodka and gin along with a 375 gallon copper pot doubler. The latest equipment that was dropped in through the roof by crane includes a 32″ diameter, 43′ 6″ tall continuous copper column still with 19 plates and a second copper pot still with a 420 gallon capacity. Add it all up and the annual output of what was originally thought to be a boutique distillery is up to a whopping 3 million proof gallons. The new equipment is expected to be online in November.
Castle & Key Welcomes Their 1st Guests on Public Tours
Once the ribbon cutting ceremony was complete, Castle & Key Distillery welcomed their first guests to public tours. The guest experience includes a view of the distillation operation that visitors can walk around, a visit to the key-shaped (as in Castle & Key) peristyle spring house, a creek-fed well house that sits along Glenns Creek, a walk around the estate’s sunken gardens and a botanical walking trail on the 113-acre property.
“For the last four years, we’ve worked incredibly hard to create a destination where discerning tastemakers can experience history in motion,” Arvin said. “Many people thought this day would never come, but we’re proud that we had the courage to keep pursuing this dream.”
Tours wrap up in the gift shop that once housed the distilleries coal fired steam boilers and a visit to everyone’s favorite part, the tasting room. It will still be a few years before Castle & Key’s bourbon and rye products are matured but they do offer their own custom made gin and vodka. Marianne said that they may release a two to three year old rye whiskey but don’t expect a bourbon until it hits at least the four year mark. The guest experience will conclude with a tasting featuring Castle & Key Restoration Release Gin and Vodka cocktails. Serious spirits fans can opt in to receive their tasting neat (even if it’s not bourbon.)
Murry said, “We can’t wait to show our guests this property and all we’re doing to create spirits with conviction over pocketbook.”
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Castle & Key Distillery Grand Opening Photo Gallery
Click on any image to enlarge.
A Day on the Trail: 5 Questions with Castle & Key Distillery Partners Wes Murry, Will Arvin & Marianne Eaves [Video]
The Long Wait is Over – Castle & Key Distillery Sets Date to Open its Doors to Public
Castle & Key Distillery: A Behind the Scenes Tour of this 129 Year Old Startup
Castle & Key Distillery Rising from Ruins After Old Taylor Distillery Narrowly Escaped Wrecking Ball