A Derelict Distillery Is Reborn in Kentucky

Courtesy Castle & Key

A venerable but forgotten Kentucky distillery rejoins the bourbon trail.

Every city has one: a ruin covered with graffiti on the outskirts of town. In Frankfort, Kentucky, it was the Old Taylor distillery, a derelict, snake-infested warren of buildings popular with trespassing teens. A century ago, the Old Taylor—built over a hallowed, limestone-rich spring—produced 700 barrels of bourbon a day and drew visitors from across the country.

But by the 1970s it had been abandoned and covered by spray paint and kudzu. “Nature took over and did a pretty good job,” said Wes Murry, the Old Taylor’s current co-owner, who is reopening the distillery this fall under the name Castle & Key. “Everybody who visited said, ‘This would be a great place to film an episode of The Walking Dead.’ ”

Four years ago, Murry, who had recently left a hedge fund, and his business partner, attorney Will Arvin, visited the 82-acre property. “Wear long sleeves,” the real estate broker had told them. Entranced, Arvin and Murry bought the ruins of the Old Taylor with plans to resurrect it not only as a functioning distillery but as a destination on the Kentucky bourbon trail. As they peeled back the brush, they uncovered railroad tracks, an elaborate sunken garden, and a 12-foot-deep, spring-fed pool.

From left: Pinhook bourbon, one of several brands made at the distillery; Marianne Eaves, Castle & Key’s master distiller. Victor Sizemore; Courtesy Castle & Key

In 2015, they hired Marianne Eaves, Kentucky’s first female master distiller since Prohibition. Their first whiskey was barreled in 2016 using a recipe “based on the products that we wanted to make for ourselves,” said Eaves. “We use a high percentage of barley, which is uncommon because it’s costly.”

Restaurateur Sean Josephs, a partner in the company behind Pinhook bourbon, was one of the first visitors to the site after restoration started. “It’s a pretty magical location,” said Josephs. Pinhook is now one of a handful of whiskey brands that have begun distilling their products on-site under Eaves’s guidance.

Starting this fall, guests can tour the workings—housed inside a limestone castle—as well as the elaborate gardens, which have been restored by renowned landscape designer Jon Carloftis. Castle & Key’s house whiskey is expected to be released in 2022.