The opening of the historic Castle & Key Distillery along Glenn’s Creek between Versailles and Frankfort was supposed to be last summer.
Now it’s scheduled for later this summer. So why the delay?
“You only get one chance at a first impression,” said Caroline Cassin, director of guest experience and retail at the distillery.
And the staff at Castle & Key want the first impression to be a really good one.
Castle & Key, the former Old Taylor Distillery,
was built by Col. E.H. Taylor in 1887. Taylor was a longtime Frankfort mayor and descendant of the family of Presidents James Madison and Zachary Taylor. By some accounts, his distillery became the first to bottle 1 million cases of bourbon.
The distillery was dormant for about 45 years until 2014, when Will Arvin and Wes Murry bought the 83-acre site for $950,000 and later expanded the campus to 113 acres. Previously, Arvin and Murry said more than $6 million would be invested into the property. Murry said the distillery doesn’t comment on its exact expenditures, but mentioned more costs were associated with an increased scope.
Some of the delay is because of the recent National Historic Register designation. The distillery recently applied for and received the distinguished title.
“It’s the right thing to do,” Murry said. “It’s a historic property that ... (has) significant value with the history of bourbon.”
Once on the register, when making changes to the property, some decisions need to be approved by the registry beforehand, such as getting lighting fixtures for the outside of buildings.
“Pretty much every decision that we make out here now has to go through them,” Cassin said.
But there are benefits to being listed on the National Historic Register, such as receiving tax credits.
Getting the labeling for the gin just right is important, and it’s taking some time, too. The labels also need to be approved by the Alcohol and Tobacco Tax and Trade Bureau, an agency that regulates and collects taxes on trade and imports of alcohol, tobacco, and firearms, Cassin said.
And then there’s all the work that goes into retrofitting old buildings for modern usage. The distillery uses materials that the old distillery used, such as a warehouse, that are now used to store barrels for a minimum of four years, in natural temperature.
The remains of a second warehouse were torn down and the space is being used as a garden to grow lemon sage, lemon verbena, rosemary and a few juniper plants. Some of those native plants will be used to flavor gin. Another building that was previously used to break down bourbon barrels will now be used to host events on the distillery property and the former boiler room will become the visitors center.
Despite the delays, the distillery is in operation, producing rye whiskey, which will be aged two-to-three years; bourbon, which will be aged for a minimum of four years; and gin and vodka, both made from scratch using its bourbon and rye distillate as the base.
Prior to its opening, many of the distillery employees are juggling multiple jobs. For example, Cassin’s job includes organizing tours and events, handling the interior and exterior design of the distillery campus and arranging marketing and public relations. Retail manager Allie Lancaster helps organize what the distillery will sell when it opens. Last week, Lancaster could be found practicing painting on a design on a barrel head.
Once open, the distillery will sell “high-end” apparel and glassware. There will also be one traditional vodka for sale. Other planned gin products include a London Dry Gin, a barrel-aged gin, and a limoncello hybrid gin, with the lemons likely to be imported from Italy.
“People will find something special here, not something that they’re seeing everywhere else on the Bourbon Trail but something unique and something that is thoughtful that they’ll really feel like is connected to the place,” Cassin said.
Perhaps the most distinctive feature of the distillery is the castle-like entrance with turrets adorning the front of the building, which is where the distilling process takes place. The distillery contains 15 11,000-gallon fermenting tanks and six 22,000-gallon fermenting tanks with plans to expand. Future plans for the distillery include a boutique hotel and a restaurant. The distillery has already hosted one wedding and plans to host more.
Murry said he cannot wait for the distillery to open later this summer.
“We hold ourselves to a pretty high level and we know others will too,” he said.