ASM: HOW LONG HAS THE RENOVATION PROCESS TAKEN, AND IS IT STILL UNDERWAY? MB: The renovation process is still underway. My partners first purchased the site in April of 2014 and started construction the very next day after closing. We haven’t stopped since then. The distillery is in operation, but there is still so much more in our grand plans for this historic bourbon icon. Opening to the public is our next milestone, and that will happen this year. The site is 113 acres and there are over 20 structures, so it’s a lot like renovating an entire abandoned town!
ASM: WHAT KIND OF SPIRITS ARE YOU MAKING THERE? MB: We are currently producing whiskeys, bourbon and rye. The bourbon is very special, made with Kentuckygrown white corn — just as the original proprietor of our site did before Prohibition — and two yeast strains that are genetically similar to the one he used. Our rye whiskey is made with Kentucky-grown rye, which is very uncommon since there is very little quality rye grown in the state. Soon we will start on our gins and vodka, both made from scratch using our bourbon and rye distillate as the base, and they will be distilled again through our specially-made gin column. It is important to us to honor the legacy of our site and make everything we will sell ourselves.
ASM: ARE YOU WORKING ON ANY EXCITING SPECIAL PROJECTS? MB: The gin is very exciting to me. I didn’t have much experience with this spirit, but learning about the flavors and history have made me fall in love with the whole world of possibilities. We are working closely with our gardener, Jon Carloftis, to identify native Kentucky plants that we can grow on-site to produce a gin that will appeal to a Kentucky native’s palate. We are using the ruin of Warehouse A as a planting bed for 39 herbs and botanicals that we will use to craft our recipes. The inspiration to grow our own ingredients came from the luxury of space and obsession with flavor. We built a quarter-mile botanical trail, and from that decided to plant a working garden (not just a beautiful one) to have total control over the quality of our ingredients.
ASM: HOW DOES IT FEEL TO REVIVE THE OLD TAYLOR DISTILLERY? MB: It feels like a dream, but one that you’ve had before. The spirit of this place is a bourbon distillery, and to have the smells and sounds revived feels very natural, yet surreal. I really feel so fortunate to get to be a part of the team to build this amazing place!
ASM: WHAT ADVICE WOULD YOU LIKE TO GIVE TO THOSE THINKING OF STARTING A DISTILLERY? MB: Start with a passion for learning and quality, and then hire someone that is really good with interpreting state regulations! Making bourbon is a dream, but without proper education on the legality, it could all come crashing down and become much more costly than you might have imagined. I would also recommend thinking through storage and bottling thoroughly. You will want to have a great maturation location and the ability to bottle your product when it comes of age. The industry has been great to us, so I would welcome anyone to it — as they say, a rising tide floats all boats!
Marianne Barnes is a partner and the master distiller of Castle & Key Distillery. Visit www.castleandkey.com or call (859) 873-2481 for more information.
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