• John McGary, Woodford Sun News Editor

‘It’s an amazing moment’, Castle & Key hosts preview

Castle & Key Distillery’s official grand opening was a week away when its owners opened the gates for a preview Wednesday, Sept. 12, at the site that was once home to Old Taylor Distillery.

Asked early in the mid-afternoon event how he was feeling, cofounder Wes Murry responded, “Pretty excited. It’s an amazing moment to be right here, right now, and to be at a point where you’re just a few days away from opening your doors for forever. Not for a day, but forever.”

Castle & Key opened the following Wednesday, with tours running every hour five days a week, Wednesday through Sunday. Murry said next March, tours will run six days a week on the half-hour.

The preview was hosted by distillery employees and members of a New York public relations firm. Guests, many of them from bourbon and other industry media outlets, had a chance to taste some of Castle & Key’s products, which so far include vodka and gin.

The Sun first toured the then-mostly dilapidated site in May 2014, not long after Murry and partner Will Arvin purchased the site, and before initial spending and hiring plans multiplied seven-fold.

“Just a little,” Murry said with a laugh. “Real meager aspirations, day one – maybe treat most of this place as a museum and we’ll find the best building and set up a distillery there. And what happened is we essentially rebuilt the entire facility and the buildings that we thought we were going to use as a distillery turned into our retail store and our guest center.”

More than 60 people now work at Castle & Key, Murry said.

One of those is Marianne Eaves, the state’s first female master distiller since Prohibition, who was hired in January 2015.

“It’s the start of the marathon,” Eaves said. “We say we’ve been in a sprint to the start of the marathon. It’s the beginning of really introducing our brand to the rest of the world. This is our opportunity to share the site.”

While the budget grew and grew again, Castle & Key paid some of the bills by distilling and aging spirits from other companies. Barnes said Warehouse B, the “long” one, is full, with about 35,000 barrels, while Warehouse E, with a capacity of about 62,000 barrels, is nearly a third full.

Waiting for their own rye, bourbon and malt whiskeys to age to the satisfaction of Eaves and company is another matter.

“We are producing whiskey continuously, trying to get it into barrels so we have aged spirits down the road…” Eaves said. The rye could be ready around this time next year, she said.

“We aren’t holding ourselves to any particular date, because we want the flavor to drive the decision… whether it should be bottled or not. So we’re maturing it until it’s ready, but it could be around this time next year,” Eaves said.

The bourbon could go on sale in 2021, she said, adding, “if it’s not quite there yet, we’ll hold it a little while longer.”

Plans changed when opportunities grew, Eaves said.

“We didn’t realize really what was available to us in the industry. We started with a still and a set-up we thought would last us five years, and six months into starting production, we realized that we needed to grow. Every time we’ve started a process or started something new, it seems like we’ve gotten an opportunity to make it bigger and grander and more unique,” Eaves said.

Before four separate and simultaneous tours of the site began, Murry was asked whether, along the way, any friends or loved ones asked him whether everything was under control.

“My wife pretty much every single night says that when I come home late,” Murry said, laughing again. “No, early on, it was sort of like, ‘Are you sure?’ Now they get it and they can see it and they’ve really seen it over the last year, come to fruition. So we’re excited to put a stake in the ground on a date and actually hit it.”

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