American whiskey has no shortage of great stories. It’s to the point that any brand worth their salt has a tale to tell that could essentially be told by a campfire to instill a sense of wonder and appreciation for history. Although one could easily take their pick from the ever-expanding litter and come up with some trivia to intrigue less suspecting individuals, Castle & Key has always struck me as particularly noteworthy. And chances are, if you watched the popular bourbon documentary Neat, you probably feel the same way.
The short version is that Castle & Key is a reincarnation of sorts for the Old Taylor Distillery, originally built in 1887 by Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor. After Taylor’s passing, the distillery “fell into disrepair and sat abandoned for half a century.” Fast-forward to 2014 and plans were set in motion to rebuild the distillery with various restorations across the grounds, including a new still. Although the eventual release of a bonded bourbon was initially touted, Castle & Key’s first whiskey releases would be rye batches. Each is made from a moderate rye mash bill (63%) with more barley (20%) than corn (17%) and aged in the 3-year range. My bottle, which was purchased at the distillery in 2021, is the first batch from that year, comprised of 80 barrels and bottled at 105 proof.
Nose: Yeasty and floral with an underlying botanical component. Showcases more grain than barrel influence at first. Mint, tea tree oil, cereal, and bergamot. Faint nuttiness with some honey. Orange and vanilla come out on post-sip.
Palate: Light orange and honey flavors. Initially prevalent mint note that dwindles with subsequent sips. Rye spice is present but kept in-check. Has an Earl Grey meets mint tea vibe going with some lemon and lavender to boot.
Finish: Grassy. Mild-moderate warmth with honey. Rye stands out here with a clean, building spice and slight saltiness.
I consider Restoration Rye is something of an anomaly. From a strictly compositional standpoint it offers little (if anything) to stand out, while the pitch for its profile isn’t likely to entice whiskey drinkers. Furthermore, this is a rye whiskey that absolutely drinks its age…and I honestly dig the results.
So much of this whiskey reminds me of perfectly made tea, particularly mint and Earl Grey (two of my favorites). It also reminds me a bit of gin, a spirit I didn’t expect to enjoy until I started making Negronis with The Botanist. The additional presence of honey and citrus flavors both suit the whiskey while adding to the overall experience. Finally, the discrete yet tangible spice component adds a welcome layer to the light and bright profile. Everything just feels properly balanced to make the best use of what might otherwise be an unimpressive, young rye whiskey. Restoration Rye won’t be for everyone, but those who feel inclined towards botanical profiles might just be surprised.