Did my car just harness 1.21 gigawatts of power while reaching 88 mph? Or did I somehow drive through Bill & Ted’s excellent phone booth (I wasn’t anywhere near a Circle K)?
About six or seven years ago I was lost. I must have taken a wrong turn at Albuquerque or, more likely, Frankfort. I found myself in front of a dilapidated, over-grown castle on a narrow, winding road. It was like I had warped backwards in time about 800 years.
It turns out I had not misread the map at Albuquerque. And I would not need the help of Doc Brown to find my way back in time. I had simply stumbled upon the historic Old Taylor Distillery. As I stopped to take it in I had two thoughts. One, how could something that was clearly once so majestic be a victim of such obvious neglect? And, two, was a knight going to come out from the castle and say “Ni” at me?
Will Arvin and Wes Murry are the two businessmen who made the bold decision in 2014 to purchase the Old Taylor property, renovate it and start producing whiskey out of it again. That’s not “put a man on the moon” or “Mr. Gorbachev tear down this wall” level of bold…but it’s up there.
In another bold move, Arvin and Murry recruited a highly-regarded, up-and-comer of the bourbon world, Marianne Eaves, to be their master distiller. Not shying away from any risk herself, Eaves agreed to take on the job making her Kentucky’s first female master distiller since prohibition. Four years and a reported $30 million investment later, the Old Taylor Distillery (renamed “Castle & Key”) was revived to its architectural glory and it was serving its God-given purpose once again: distilling bourbon.
Everything appeared to be going perfectly to plan for the team at Castle & Key. The distillery and grounds had been renovated and received nothing but praise. While there was no bourbon or rye being sold yet, the vodka and gin coming out of Castle & Key got high marks. The buzz around the new brand and what the team of Arvin, Murry and Eaves was doing seemed to do nothing but grow.
Then, seemingly out of nowhere…strange things were afoot at the C & K. Continuing the trend of bold choices in this saga, Eaves abruptly resigned last week from her position at Castle & Key drawing from the bourbon public one loud collective “whoa!” Predictably, the announcement drew lively speculation and criticism on social media.
Through her popular public appearances and Instagram presence, Marianne had rightly and effectively established herself as the leader and face of the Castle & Key brand. Why would someone leave what appeared to be an opportunity of a whiskey lifetime before the first release of bourbon hit the market? The only accurate answer here is: I don’t know and neither do you.
Even if Eaves had not decided to leave, the grades for Castle & Key in May of 2019 would be the same. There are A’s and A+’s for the renovations, for the contribution to tourism and for the gin and vodka. Since the bourbon and rye have not been released the only grade possible for the whiskey is an incomplete. A very hopeful and enthusiastic incomplete.
While Castle & Key may have lost the “face” of its brand, the original leaders are still running the show. If you praised Arvin and Murry for their leadership in renovating the Old Taylor Distillery and hiring Marianne Eaves in the first place, then you should have confidence as they make their next move: hiring Eaves’ replacement.
Despite the recent uproar my central thought surrounding Castle & Key remains the same: thankfulness. I am very thankful that Arvin and Murry had the vision to revive the crown jewel of a bourbon pioneer and the commitment (financial and otherwise) to see it through. I am also thankful to Marianne for her obvious passion for the project and all she has given to bring it so far so quickly.
On the “People” section of the Castle & Key website it says “We don’t take shortcuts. We don’t follow the status quo”. The coming weeks and months will require many decisions for Arvin and Murry at Castle & Key and from Eaves, too, as she charts her new course. While we don’t know what those decisions will be for Arvin and Murry or Eaves, I am fairly certain we can expect them to be bold ones.
If you have not visited Castle & Key yet, it is well worth your time. The team has done an amazing job there and the people there are tremendous hosts. If you have thoughts on Castle & Key or the recent changes there, please leave a comment here or on twitter @brbnfellowship. Thanks!Kevin Rose