Former Woodford County distillery ready to spring back to life

Almost 45 years after the former Old Taylor distillery stopped producing bourbon, it might be only about a month away from making spirits again.

Now called Castle & Key, the distillery along Glenn’s Creek between Versailles and Frankfort will fire up its new 42-foot copper column still from Vendome Copper & Brass Works in Louisville sometime in August, said Brett Connors, Castle & Key brand ambassador.

Later this fall, the distillery and grounds are scheduled to open to visitors again after two years of renovations.

In 2014, Will Arvin and Wes Murry bought the 83-acre site for $950,000 and said they anticipated spending about $6 million to revive the distillery and add a tourism center. They have since added an extension, bringing the total size to about 113 acres. They won’t say how exactly much they have spent, but it’s probably safe to say they have exceeded the $6 million estimate already.

Renowned Kentucky garden designer Jon Carloftis has remade the famed sunken garden, a unique feature designed by Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. specifically for the tourists whom he would bring in on private trains.

Today the garden is again a showplace and already has been the backdrop for a wedding. In fact, the distillery has refurbished a room in a nearby tower-shaped building as a bridal suite for last-minute wedding preparations.

The rest of the grounds have been transformed into a botanical trail and, in the remnants of the first warehouse, a botanical cutting garden, which master distiller Marianne Barnes plans to use for botanical gin recipes.

Although the outside of Castle & Key has seen dramatic changes, the interior changes have been more subtle but more significant. Six massive fermenting tanks inside the “castle” that sat empty for years but are in excellent condition have been sandblasted and are ready to receive mash; four others are cleaned and ready for other uses. Recently, the building was a hive of activity as workers scraped and painted, and tinkered with equipment for handling grain.

Beside the main still, Castle & Key has a custom-built gin still that can produce spirits as strong as191 proof. Both were installed in October and will be capable of producing about 12,000 barrels a year.

Realistically, Connors said, initial production will be more like 25 barrels a day. In addition to bourbon, rye whiskey and wheated bourbon, and gin, Connors said they are discussing whether to add vodka, too. Both gin and vodka could be released almost immediately, giving the distillery a potential revenue stream along with tourism.

Inside the former boiler room, space has been carved out for the gift shop and tasting room, where tours will start, Connors said. And an original patio is being refurbished with reclaimed firebricks from the defunct boilers.

The other distinctive feature of the property, the keyhole-shaped peristyle, the springhouse that gives the distillery the rest of its name, also has been renovated and has a new cocktail garden. This will be a hub of entertainment for the distillery, which plans to add a restaurant and eventually places to stay on site. Last year, owners Barnes, Murry and Arvin announced that Brook Smith, who created the iconic Louisville restaurant 610 Magnolia, has become an investment partner in Castle & Key.

At least one restaurant is planned, in the former train station; another could be coming in a former administrative building across the road, which might one day have an inn, Connors said.