Castle & Key Distillery is the now restored Old Taylor distillery, founded by Col. E.H. Taylor while he was also proprietor of what is now Buffalo Trace distillery. The distillery was abandoned during bourbon’s darkest days since prohibition, in 1972, during the rise of lower proof spirits and wine on the American drinking scene and the rise of the ugliest polyester clothing on the fashion scene. In any event, the distillery was purchased and restored by a lawyer and a hedge fund manager. They hired Marianne Eaves as their first master distiller, and while she has now moved on to being an independent consultant, the barrels going into this first ever release of Castle & Key bourbon were laid down by her. These are the early tracks, if you will, of a bourbon rockstar. The mashbill is 73% corn, 10% rye, and 17% malted barley. While I would not classify this bourbon as high-malt, the use of more malted barley than rye brings the barley from a provider of enzymes that encourage alcohol production by the yeast to provider of flavor in this bourbon. This bourbon is aged stated at 4 years, and is bottled at 98 proof. This was released yesterday on March 26 at the distillery, but Hokus Pokus had it on the shelves on Friday, March 25. So, this bourbon is brand new although long awaited. The MSRP on this bottle is $50; Hokus had it for $46. At first, I wondered why they bottled this just shy of 100 proof and therefore could have released it under a bottled in bond designation, but Castle & Key has already had some legal skirmishes with Sazerac who owns the Old Taylor brand (who got the brand as a result of settlement of litigation with Jim Beam over Red Stag) and whose Col. E.H. Taylor brand is very closely associated with being bottled in bond, so they probably wanted to avoid that headache. Those chose a pretty cool bottle though.
The color on this is a nice straw amber, about what you would expect from a four year old bourbon. On the swirl is a thick film and long legs. Very traditional bourbon nose with a ton of caramel, fruitiness, some floral notes, and corn syrup. On the palate, this bourbon has a medium but luscious mouthfeel, with flavors of Heath bar toffee, allspice, nutmeg, buttery almond brittle (like my Mom used to make), and a hint of clove. For being in the sub-100 proof category, this bourbon’s flavors punch way above its weight class, although the flavors are a little flat due to the youth of this whiskey. On the finish the almond brittle fades into heavy all spice along with some traditional baking spices that linger for quite a while.
This is good bourbon, and in a few years it will probably rise to level of great. The mashbill is really spot on. At four years old, this bourbon is good with no serious negatives in the flavor profile. After a few more years, this bourbon will be amazing. More importantly, Hokus was able to order five cases of this bourbon, and it is not yet considered allocated. So, this should be fairly easy to get (at least for now) in the states where it has been released. What I also like about this bourbon is that it represents not the resurrection of a brand using whiskey sourced from somewhere else, but the resurrection of a distillery with great historical routes but with a new brand that has been distilled and aged at the distillery. As their motto says on the back of the bottle- “Honoring History and Challenging Tradition”. Very fitting for a new bourbon that is kind of old school – and I like that.