Castle & Key Small Batch (Batch 3) Scoresheet & Review

Anyone versed in bourbon history (or who watched Neat: The Story of Bourbon) likely anticipated Castle & Key’s first in-house bourbon release with bated breath. The brand’s story of resurrecting the Old Taylor Distillery is well-documented at this point, and the appeal is undeniable. Bourbon produced for the first time in decades at a distillery originally established by Colonel Edmund H. Taylor? How could any hobbyist not be intrigued?

Castle & Key’s bourbon has appeared in other bottlings, namely Pinhook and Blue Run, but it wasn’t until 2022 that they bottled it themselves. These have been coming out in batches similar in vein to Restoration Rye, including a since-released wheated bourbon. The first two batches were quickly swept up, so I didn’t see a bottle until batch 3 hit my market. Curiously, this batch was comprised of 40 barrels (the previous batches were 80 barrels each). It was bottled at 48% ABV and, like the surrounding batches, was made from a mash bill of 73% white corn, 17% malted barley, and 10% rye aged for 4 years. MSRP sits around $45-$50.

Nose: Somewhat closed off and grain forward. Apple cinnamon oatmeal, dried grapefruit, and a faint air of mint. Has a floral component evoking orange blossom, along with dusty corn.

Palate: Light-medium mouthfeel, but also has some rough edges. Mellow orange and honeycrisp apple profile that gradually becomes even softer with a fluffy consistency that brings certain flours to mind. A tangible, but nondescript herbal rye note creeps up.

Finish: Rather full texture-wise. Oatmeal returns with some effervescence. Warm honey, mild pepper, and light brown sugar round the experience out.

This release had an uphill battle. Backstory literally sold the product, but critiquing the final product was a separate test for the team at Castle & Key. If people didn’t like the whiskey then it means they’d be that much less likely to return for future endeavors. Factor in the state of bourbon combined with rising prices and anything short of spectacular would all but translate to disappointment.

I’m not here to tell you that Castle & Key bourbon batch 3 is even remotely spectacular. What I will say is that the bourbon has promise and offers an ever so slightly unique profile. For all the grain and flour-like aspects, there is some pleasantness to find beyond (and even within) those facets. What fruit notes do exist are pleasant, down to the apple and oatmeal flavors. I also think this profile is elevated by the odd (yet welcome), fluffy consistency, which also aides in providing a stronger finish than I’d expect from the proof. Take everything together and we have a bourbon with no lack of shortcomings, but not without positive qualities either.

Where the conversation sours a bit is when we look at Castle & Key in the grand scheme of things. The decorative bottle and backstory are certainly nice and bound to spark discussion, yet the whiskey itself is marginally inspirational. Regardless of whether it’s a question of blending, batching, aging, or something else, this feels like a product released with poor foresight. Some will get more out of it than others, but I suspect those folks will want to like it more simply on the basis of its historical significance. That and the attractive presentation.



Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s