A Visit to Castle and Key Distillery

If I may, I’d like to share with you my visit to the Castle and Key Distillery, located outside Frankfort Kentucky. Castle and Key is located about seven minutes past Woodford Reserve on McCracken Pike in the Historic Old Taylor Distillery. Much like their neighbor, Glenn’s Creek Distillery (located in the ruins of the Historic Old Crow Distillery about two minutes further down the road), Castle and Key is a craft distillery working to revitalize a historic property which had been abandoned by Jim Beam after they bought National Distillers in the 1980s.

In this case, the property was designed to be a showpiece of a distillery. Long before distillery tours were a form of tourism, Col. E.H. Taylor was bringing people to his castle-shaped distillery via train to show off what he had made. I’m guessing that he wanted to build his distillery into a work of art to impress upon people the value of the product that the distillery was making. It is a lesson that has been learned by many of the new distilleries that have popped up in recent years.

So not only was Col. Taylor the father of Bottled in Bond, but also of Bourbon Tourism. Let’s take a look at what is left today after the original distillery was bought and expanded by National Distillers, bought and abandoned by Jim Beam, and left to scrappers and the elements for thirty years before being purchased by the current occupants.

Upon entering the gate to the property, you immediately walk past the iconic castle. Inside the doorway is the distillery proper. There is a helpful gate guard to let you know that the gift shop where you report for your tour is not through that doorway, but past the castle, down the path and around the corner.

It is interesting to think that this property was in such bad shape that the current occupants purchased it for less than one million dollars. Of course, it took many more millions of dollars to remove the asbestos and trees from the buildings, excavate the property from flood debris and restore the buildings to the point that people could be in them.

Around the corner of the castle is a plaza that fronts the old boiler room (now the gift shop) and the old passenger train station (now the restrooms and the place you can purchase your cocktails). These are the public portions of the distillery. You can sit by the springhouse, walk down the botanical trail and enjoy a cocktail from Taylorton Station.

Of course, the other thing that the plaza leads to is the spring house. I’m sure you’ve all seen images of the spring house, even from before the renovations. This is as pretty as the photos lead one to believe. It is shaped like a keyhole and is one of the original springs on the property. According to our wonderful tour guide, you could empty it of water and allow it to refill twice per day should you want to.

Now you might think that Castle and Key, being a craft distillery, would be a small operation. The original owners thought that might be the case as well until they realized that all the original fermentation tanks could be easily cleaned and upgraded and reused. Each of the tanks holds over 11,000 gallons of fermenting mash and I saw a sign that called one of the tanks “No. 14.” As you might have guessed, all of a sudden this place had a different business model.

One side effect of all those fermenters is needing a much larger still, seen here. It comes from Vendome Copper & Brass and is quite large.

One of the interesting bits of trivia that our tour guide left us with was that, although everyone knew that Col. Taylor had two formal gardens on the property, no one knew where they were. It wasn’t until they were excavating in this area that they ran into something hard and realized they were on top of one of them.

While we were learning about the gin basket in the distillery a worker, who happened to be doing quality control, offered us a taste of the bourbon new make that was coming off the still. It was quite good, for new make. It was fun then that we got to see the same new make entered into barrels as we wandered past. One of the tour got the chance to pound in one of the bungs for them. He seemed quite happy with the opportunity.

Past the barreling house is a building that has fallen down. They used the foundations of the building to create gardens which they use to grow the botanicals of the gin they produce (more on that later in the week). In the distance is the longest aging warehouse in Kentucky. It is currently full of aging product that they have made.

Of course, no bourbon distillery tour would be complete without a tasting at the end. Unfortunately, all the bourbon they have is still currently aging in the warehouse shown above. So they made us cocktails using their vodka and their gin. Let’s put it this way, I was impressed enough with the cocktail to buy a bottle of each of their gins. We will talk about those on Thursday.

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Festivals and Fun: A September Week in Kentucky

While I was in Kentucky, I attended events where I had been comped tickets to write about the event. They include: From Field to Fermentation and The Science of Maturation at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival as well as Bourbon and Beyond.

As you may be aware, I’ve spent a large percentage of the last week and a half in the Commonwealth of Kentucky. While I was there, I attended a couple festivals, did a bit of shopping and snuck off to have some fun that had absolutely nothing to do with bourbon. If you’d indulge me, I’d like to tell you about it.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: From Field to Fermentation

The first thing I did in Kentucky was attend From Field to Fermentation… Actually the first thing I did in Kentucky was visit my friends Paul and Merry Beth at MB Roland. They have been friends of mine since before BourbonGuy.com was even a thought in the back of my brain and since my visit was a social call, it is completely off the record.

So backing up, the first official thing I did was attend the From Field to Fermentation event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. The first thing I noticed about this event was that it was a bit hard to get to. It was held in Bardstown’s Spalding Hall and as we walked up, the Great Lawn was in the process of being set up just outside the front door. But that didn’t deter me! I had some learnin’ to do.

And learn I did. This was a fascinating seminar. It was hosted by Moonshine University and, as the title says, it covered everything from the rules of whiskey to the selection and milling of grain all the way to yeast and fermentation. If you are the type of person who thinks that the distilleries gloss over everything when they tell you how whiskey is made, then this is the event for you. It had charts and graphs and talked about microbiology. I highly recommend this one. We even got to taste some things. In this case, new make. We had four distillates: 100% corn, 100% rye, 100% wheat and 100% malted barley. I actually finished my 100% rye new make. It was quite tasty.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: All-Star Sampler

I’ve been to the All-Star Sampler before. In fact, I’ve been there almost every time I’ve gone to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. And I think that was my problem. I had a “been-there, done-that” sort of vibe this time around. I made the rounds, I tasted a few whiskies I hadn’t had before, and introduced myself to a couple craft distillers that I hadn’t met yet. All in all, I got bored a bit early in the night.

BUT. And this is a big but. This is all because I’ve been there so many times. This is a great event for people making their first trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. You get to meet the Master Distillers of most of the big distilleries. There is music, good food and and you can try most distilleries’ entire line of bourbons (or at least a large swath of it).

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: Let’s Talk Bourbon

Let’s Talk Bourbon is my favorite paid event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. First off, it is held on the beautiful grounds of the Four Roses Distillery in Lawrenceburg, KY. Secondly, they serve a great breakfast. Eggs, bacon, biscuits and gravy, and this is where I realized that I really like garlic grits for breakfast. On top of that, you get a high-level view of how bourbon is made. If you think that the From Field to Fermentation event sounds a little too in-depth for you, then this will be right up your alley.

Castle and Key Tour

I’m not going to go into too much depth on this one since there will be an entire photo post about it next week, but I’m just going to say that this is probably the most fun that this history geek has had on a distillery tour in a long time. It ranked right up there with the visit I took to Old Crow a few years back and the good news is that everyone can take this tour.

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: The Science of Maturation

If you can believe it, this might have been even more in-depth than the From Field to Fermentation event I’d attended earlier in the week. It covered almost everything that you’d want to know about maturation including the anatomy of a barrel, what toasting and charring a barrel each does to a whiskey’s flavor, what happens in a barrel, how warehouse variations affect how a whiskey ages, the effect of entry proof on bourbon and more. Plus there was a how-to on sensory evaluation of whiskey as well as a tasting of a whiskey through the aging process from new make through two, four and six years. And to top it off we tasted three single barrels bourbons that were from the same lot and that aged right next to each other for the same amount of time. That was fascinating!

Kentucky Bourbon Festival: The Master Distiller’s Auction

Now this is my favorite event at the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. I’ve written about it before so here are the Cliff Notes. All the items are donated. All the money goes to fund the Oscar Getz Museum. This is their main source of income for the year.

Now onto the highlights from this year:

  • First and foremost, the long-time auctioneer of the Master Distiller’s Auction passed away since last year. He was very entertaining and you could tell that he loved doing this auction. I didn’t know him, but I will miss him just the same.

  • The Auction raised over $25,000 for the museum.

  • $11,000 of that came from the five bottles in the Van Winkle line.

  • My wife spent $175 of our bourbon budget on a basket because she liked the diamond necklace in it. Much of the rest of the basket are things that I will be giving away in the next month or so (stay tuned!)

  • Someone paid $85 for a bottle of Heaven Hill Bottled in Bond 6-year old! That makes the half case up in my closet…something I will still happily drink.

Bourbon & Beyond

This year, Bourbon and Beyond was on the same weekend as BourbonFest. And to my eye, it looked as if it really bit hard into the Kentucky Bourbon Festival’s attendance. And I can see why, three days of music, food and bourbon is hard to beat. This was a great event. I had multiple delicious cocktails. I heard great music. It was fun, even though there were so many people there that it triggered my anxiety (I don’t do well with crowds).

Even though once you were inside the event it was a great experience, I do have some constructive criticism from the perspective of a non-native of Louisville. The parking experience was terrible. There were two to four events going on that day and there was no signage on how to get to the festival grounds from the parking. Helpfully, they provided free shuttles to the event from the parking lots, but they didn’t provide them to get back to the parking from the event. I walked a half hour back to my car and needed to use google maps to point myself in the right direction because, once again no signage.

Bottom line, this is a great event. But they assume that you have been there before and know where you are going. Which, as a visitor is more than a bit stressful. Luckily there is bourbon inside.

Bernheim Arboretum and Research Forest

I have driven past this place for years. This trip, I finally decided to stop in and visit. It was great! This nature preserve was started by none other than Issac Wolfe Bernheim, whiskey man. You might recognize him as the IW in IW Harper and the Bernheim in…Bernheim Whiskey. This was a lovely and peaceful place to wander around, feed the fish and turtles and see a set of really cool sculptures called the Forest Giants. My vacation to Kentucky can be a little hectic as I try to pack it as full as possible. I might need to plan a stop to the Bernheim Forest from now on to allow myself a structured chance to chill.

Newport Aquarium, Newport, KY

My last night in Kentucky, I traveled north to the Southern suburbs of Cincinnati. I usually make the trip up there to visit the Party Source, but I’ve never stayed there before. I decided to this time because I realized that it took the same amount of time to come home from Shepherdsville, KY as it did from Newport, KY. While I was there I decided to check out the Newport Aquarium. While this isn’t as big or as cool as the other Newport Aquarium that I’ve been to (Oregon), it is still a nice way to spend an afternoon. I love aquariums so I really enjoyed it and would recommend it. Plus it is about 5 minutes from the Party Source so you can do a little shopping afterward too.

BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products and bourbon-related craft supplies I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. And hey, if you are an iOS user, look for Bourbon Guy in Apple News. Thanks!

Angel's Envy Distillery Tour, Louisville, KY

On my last visit to Kentucky, I made a point to visit a few of the distilleries that had popped up in the last few years. It had been a few years since I had gone on a distillery tour (there are only so many distilleries that are worth touring) so I figured that they time had come to visit a couple newbies.

Upon entering the Angel’s Envy distillery, you are greeted at a desk, checked into your tour and invited to wander the gift shop until your tour starts. It really is a lovely gift shop with exposed brick, honey color wood, and black ironwork. There is a story about why the elevator in the back has the name Vermont American above it. Apparently parts of this building used to be a Vermont American plant.

Fun fact, my father worked for a Vermont American plant in northern Wisconsin making drill bits for many years before the plant was shut down and the jobs moved elsewhere.

The tour starts by taking the elevator under the Vermont American sign up to the cooking and fermentation area. The exposed brick of original factory is still a major design element, accented by the wood and metalwork from the gift shop.

The fermenters are closed fermenters, though they will open one up for you to look in.

If you turn around while they are describing the cooking and fermentation process, you get a nice look at their column still. More on that area later.

The mashbill for Angel’s Envy is (very coincidentally, wink wink) the same as Old Forester and Woodford Reserve. I guess it makes sense that it would be since Angel’s Envy was founded by the former Master Distiller of Old Forester, Lincoln Henderson. It was what he liked, knew, and reportedly the whiskey he bought to make the sourced version of Angel’s Envy that is currently for sale (aged stock from this distillery won’t be ready for a while).

After going through the cooking and fermentation area, we were taken to the still room. If you aren’t looking at the still, you will see a nice view of the Downtown Louisville skyline from the window.

The still area is dominated by the copper “Spirit Safe” style display. It was designed to be in the shape of an Angel’s Envy bottle and if all the computers go down, you could crack that thing open along the seam and stick a hydrometer in if need be.

After the still area, we made our way over to the barrel filling area. This is one of the tanks that hold the new make as it comes off the still. I liked the phrase stenciled on it. I feel like that would make a good tee shirt for me.

As you walk out of the barrel filling area, you will notice the barrels waiting to be filled. They do not have an aging area on site, so these will be trucked to another location to age after they are filled.

Here the tour steps a little out of order on the process. The bottling line is between the filling and dumping areas. It wasn’t being run very fast while I was there. Sounds like that might be a usual thing for them.

Of course, the thing that makes Angel’s Envy what it is, is the barrel finishing that the bourbon goes through before bottling. The aged bourbon is brought to the facility and put into barrels that had previously been used to age port wine. In this stage, they leave it for a relatively short period of time (think months not years) stacked on pallets. This step is done on site.

I love being able to see barrels being dumped. I’m not sure why but it always gives me a little thrill. We were lucky enough to catch them dumping some just as we left the barrel finishing area.

And of course the tour ended with a tasting. They only taste the standard Angel’s envy release. But they give you a generous pour (for a tour) before inviting you to put a message into a tube in their wall, buy a cocktail in the on-site cocktail lounge or wander around the tasting area.

The tasting area is dominated by a very large split log table. Two tables were carved from this one log that had been ripped down the center. It was an impressive sight. The tasting room followed the same honey wood and black metal work as the rest of the distillery. It was beautifully done.

I was super impressed with the Angel’s Envy tour. They were very transparent about both the sourced whiskey they are currently bottling as well as the stuff they are making now. I felt extremely welcome on the tour. It was entertaining and beautiful. All in all, I’d recommend this one.

BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, please visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Lux Row Distillers: Distillery Tour

It’s Bourbon Heritage Month and as such, I am celebrating all things bourbon. Not just the liquid, but travel, tours, and book, as well. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the newly opened Lux Row Distillery in Bardstown, KY.

While in Bardstown, I made sure to stop in and grab a tour at the newly completed Lux Row Distillers. I was at the name announcement ceremony two years ago when the grounds consisted of a historic home and a large pile of dirt. I was really looking forward to seeing the finished result. I wasn’t disappointed. This is a beauty of a distillery. The fact that it is also very obviously a working distillery first and a tourist attraction second just adds to the charm.

Upon walking up to the distillery, I was struck by how welcoming it looked. I knew this was a manufacturing facility, but it looked like someone’s house. (A house well out of my price range, but a house none-the-less.)

The tour started with a movie. They all seem to. It’s a nice efficient way to bring everyone up to speed. After the movie we stepped out into the manufacturing floor. They had two 4,000-gallon cookers that feed twelve 8,000-gallon fermenters. Four of the fermenters were open for tourists to experience, the other eight were closed like the ones shown above.

After making our way around the cookers and fermenters, we were at the stills. The stills live in a lovely, though very warm, room with large windows to show off all the lovely copper.

Out the windows is a nice view of the 200 year-old house that was the main structure standing on the grounds the fist time I visited the property. They have plans for it that they didn’t disclose, but said that for now it is only used for storage.

I thought this was a nice bit of transparency. As you may know, until recently, Luxco was not in the business of distilling bourbon. They were in the business of buying, blending, and bottling bourbon. (In a fun tidbit, they admitted that the current stocks are coming from Jim Beam and Heaven Hill.) As such, with a distillery that has been producing spirit for less than a year, they are filling barrels, but not yet dumping any. And they told us as such when they pointed out the dumping station in the foreground. They roughly said: it’s here for when we need to start using it in four or more years. I liked that. It’s nice to see companies that are not trying to sell a fantasy.

After we saw where barrels are filled (if it wasn’t a Saturday during the Kentucky Bourbon Festival), we move over to where they are stored after they are filled. With this one, they took steps to make sure that the view was worth the walk over.

Unlike most of the Lux Row aging warehouses (or those from most other companies for that matter) this aging warehouse was built with visitors in mind and has a large viewing area inside the front of the warehouse. These very large beams keep all those barrels in place even though there would normally be more supports (and barrels) in their place.

I know every warehouse has a view something like this, but I just liked the photo.

We finished the tour in the tasting room. It was a lovely tasting room. Lots of copper. We tasted Rebel Yell, Ezra Brooks, and David Nicholson 1843. In the process we got to meet members of the Lux family who were in town for the festival. And in another fun tidbit, I learned that if you are looking at the labels of a Luxco bourbon, you can tell if it is wheated or not but the color of the label. All the wheated bourbons have a white label (aside from the Rebel Yell Single Barrel whose label is painted on).

I thoroughly enjoyed my tour at Lux Row Distillers. The grounds were as beautiful as I remembered. The distillery and gift shop were welcoming, and the information was accurate and transparent. Honestly, what more can you ask for?

BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, please visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!

Old Forester Distillery Tour at the Old Forester Distilling Co., Louisville, KY

It's Bourbon Heritage Month and I just got back from Kentucky so I thought it might be a good time to highlight some Bourbon Fun. Tonight, I’m taking a look at the Old Forester Distilling Co. A new visitor experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville, KY.

Hey! I’m back from my annual trip to the Kentucky Bourbon Festival…only this year, I really didn’t go to the Festival all that much. I only went to two events that were officially part of the Festival, and only one was a paid, ticketed event. It’s odd, but I might be falling out of love with the KBF. All of the prices have increased to the point where I just don’t want to pay them anymore. Which, on one hand, really sucks. I don’t like to be priced out of things I enjoy (welcome to bourbon in 2018…amirite?) But on the other, it did allow me to have a lot of other experiences that I normally wouldn’t have had time for.

Experiences like tours of some of the new distilleries (or distillery-like experiences) that have popped up since I last took the time to wander away from Bardstown. One of the tours I took was of the new Old Forester Distilling Co. experience on Whiskey Row in Louisville.

When you walk in the door, you are immediately greeted by a large brick and wood room that contains a desk for checking into your tour (or buying tickets) and a waiting area. This is where your tour will start. Depending on how early you arrive, you may decide to visit the gift shop. they will certainly let you, but in true Disneyland fashion, you will also exit the tour into the gift shop as well. So when you give them your money is up to you.

If you choose to visit the Gift Shop before you take your tour, you will be greeted with the best view of the tall copper column still (as well as branded merchandise and multiple bottles that are available for purchase).

By a strange coincidence, one of my fellow tour-takers was a distiller from England who was there as a guest of Brown-Forman and Campbell Brown, the President of Old Forester (who also tagged along for a good portion of the tour as well). This meant that not only were there a few more geeky questions than you normally find on a typical bourbon distillery tour, but we also got a few more candid and honest answers than you would usual too.

Above is the entry to the official “tour area” this area talks about their mash bill and the benefit of Kentucky water.

One of the especially candid answers we received on the tour related to the fermenters (shown above). When the English Distiller (whose name or company I have forgotten) asked why they had open fermenters instead of closed ones, Mr. Brown answered that it was because it provided a better visitor experience and that they have closed fermenters in the big distillery. I enjoyed the candor. It’s refreshing to go on a distillery tour and not be overloaded with marketing speak.

When we stopped to take a look at the still, which I had already seen in the gift shop, I turned around and looked at the other wall which featured these windows showing where spirit at various parts of the distilling run would be visible. One thing I liked about the tour, was that it was really set up to be an education in to how bourbon is made for the average consumer. They wouldn’t have had to have made all the extra graphics to explain what was going on, but they took the time to do it. Nice touch.

Of course the highlight of the tour was the barrel making area. And not just because we happened to have one of the cooper’s grandfather and other older relatives on the tour with us (though watching the young kid sneak up to surprise an elderly great-aunt with a hug was heartwarming as well). Once again, they showed all the steps and let us know which pieces of equipment were state-of-the-art and which were from a previous era of barrel making. More refreshing candor. Some things were just there because it made a better show on a small scale, not because they were efficient on a large scale.

This was our tour guide (I forget her name because her hair covered her name tag and I’m bad with remembering names at the best of times). In any case, she was excellent. Normally, I have a conversation with myself regarding the things they are over simplifying or just plain getting wrong. I didn’t have that conversation here. She was very knowledgeable and I don’t remember a single of noticeable error.

This was a pretty cool machine. It was a hydraulic press that put the hoops on the barrel. I don’t remember seeing anything like this when I toured Independent Stave a few years ago, but my memory is notoriously bad (and it may have been behind the scenes as well). Still, having been a metal-stamping press operator for a few years after high school, this looked like much more fun (and much less noisy) than those were. It even had a JoyStick!

Of course after you build a barrel, you need to test it. And this was where my fellow tour taker’s nephew/grandson came in. He basically adds some water, fills it with air and looks for bubbles.

This is a fairly small distillery by big bourbon standards, but it is a working distillery none-the-less. And they say that some of the liquid that is being made on sight is also being aged on site. Not sure how I’d feel about all that flammable liquid being there, if I was Duluth Trading Company next door.

And this is a bottling line. Once again, it seemed like it was there so you could see a bottling line and learn what they do. It was running pretty slowly compared to others I’ve seen in other distilleries.

And no tour would be complete without a tasting at the end. This tour offered tastes of Old Forester 86 proof, Old Forester Statesman, and Old Forester 1897 bottled in Bond.

IMAGE: a hand-drawn smiley face

Overall, I really enjoyed the tour. There was little, to no, “Marketing BS” and the entire place was set up not only to show you how bourbon was made, but also to help you learn about how bourbon is made. Plus it was fun! And honestly, that’s just as important at the end of the day.

BourbonGuy.com accepts no advertising. It is solely supported by the sale of the hand-made products I sell at the BourbonGuy Gifts Etsy store. If you'd like to support BourbonGuy.com, visit BourbonGuyGifts.com. Thanks!