From Old Taylor to Castle and Key

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The first time I ever went to Kentucky, I wound up on McCracken Pike in Frankfort, winding my way through a heavily-forested area when the oddest, most-surreal thing happened: an abandoned white castle from out of a fairy tale appeared on the road in front of me.

It was the former site of the Old Taylor Distilling Company—a once-thriving distillery, built in 1887 by Col. E.H. Taylor (now a Buffalo Trace product)—left alone to decay in the middle of nowhere, yet still accessible to anyone who dared enter its haunted remains. When I say it was “left alone,” I mean that literally. Let me show you:

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I found boxes of paperwork from the late 1960s just sitting there, showing transactions between companies doing business with National Distillers—everything from grain deliveries to elevator maintenance. There were all sorts of remnants from the old regime, and it both looked and felt like a scene from a post-apocalyptic film, where the previous inhabitants had been caught off-guard by some unforeseeable plague or tragedy.

It was a bit unnerving, but also super cool for someone like me. I went back multiple times over the years and brought friends with me.

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Depending on how far inside you wanted to go, there was a lot to explore. You also had the even-eerier, abandoned Old Crow distillery just down the road, so you could go two-for-two if you were really in the mood for some trespassing. Imagine my surprise when I went back to Kentucky recently and found this:

Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson for Architectural Digest

Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson for Architectural Digest

A cleaned, revamped, and renovated new distillery called Castle & Key inside the once-bleak ruins. You can get a really good look here in this article from Architectural Digest (I haven’t been inside yet, so I don’t have any of my own photos), but the full story behind the purchase and the transformation is also here on the website. As a new operation, Castle & Key is selling small amounts of gin and vodka, while laying down their own Bourbon and rye whiskies for future consumption, but it’s also the working site for Pinhook: a sleek blending and bottling operation that I now have in my bag of booze and am just getting to know.

So much as happened in so little time! As one retailer told me last week: “You were gone for a year? That’s like ten years in whiskey time.”

Indeed. So much catching up to do.

-David Driscoll