We’re fortunate in Columbus to be so close to the Kentucky Bourbon Trail and its many stops. Last month we visited a couple distilleries before spending the weekend in Louisville with friends. And easily one of the highlights of the trip was the tour at Castle & Key Distillery outside Frankfort.
Beth had been to Castle & Key a few years ago, and she was excited to tour it all over again. The distillery and its grounds enjoy one of the richest histories in a region that’s full of great stories.
As you park across the street and walk over to the store, you’ll immediately notice the eclectic mix of buildings that sometimes border on ruins, the random sets of train tracks, and the richly landscaped grounds.
The grounds – including the bottle shop and store, and a small cocktail bar/snack shop – are open to public, but if you want the full experience it’s highly recommended that you book your tour ahead of time. The standard tour runs about one hour, and is offered multiple times a day Thursdays through Sundays.
Tours start just outside the main store. If you’re lucky, you’ll get Rich as your guide. He’s the perfect combination of expert historian and comedian, with an enthusiasm that sometimes borders on fiery Baptist preacher.
I won’t share the entire story of Castle & Key, but the short version is that it opened as Col. E. H. Taylor’s distillery in 1887. He built up the grounds to include dozens of buildings, creating a full experience for guests with gardens, parties, music, and more beautiful features. He even managed to extend the railroad from Frankfort to his distillery.
Eventually the distillery changed hands before becoming National Distillers, weathering Prohibition, and falling into ruin. It was eventually abandoned in 1972 and salvaged for scrap over the next 40 years, before a new pair of owners recognized its value and in 2012 purchased the 113-acre site and its 27 buildings for $950,000.
They set about the slow process of restoring the buildings one-by-one, uncovering Col. Taylor’s gardens and other infrastructure, re-establishing a working distillery, and hiring Kentucky’s first female master distiller, Marianne Eaves (who has since moved on).
You’ll need to book a tour to get the full story, but here are some photo highlights!
The tour ends in a speakeasy, where your guide will take you through a tasting. We sampled their Restoration Rye, a gin and tonic using their Harvest Gin, and a gin mule.
Be sure to carve out some time to explore the gift shop in the former boiler room.
The former Taylorton Station, their arrival point for the trains from Frankfort, is now a snack bar and cocktail shop.
You can grab an adult beverage, coffee, snacks, and more. If the weather’s nice, you can find places to sit or stroll on the grounds. It’s the perfect stop to end the tour!
To book a tour at Castle & Key, visit here: castleandkey.com/visit-the-distillery/experience-calendar