Review: Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Batch 1 and 2 and Restoration Rye 2022 Batch 1

Review: Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Batch 1 and 2 and Restoration Rye 2022 Batch 1

Castle and Key Bourbon

Now for the moment some of us have been waiting for since first signs of re-awakening appeared at the abandoned Taylor distillery off McCracken Pike. After several years of patience, time, and change, the inaugural batches of Castle & Key’s bourbon have been delivered.

The first round of Restoration Rye went live in early 2021, and even through the peaks of the pandemic Castle & Key’s output remained level and consistent: putting out seasonal gins, several new batches of vodka and Restoration Rye, and a special whiskey paying homage to the role African Americans have played in American whiskey production. We were lucky enough to catch a very busy (but energetic) Blender/Brand Ambassador/Jack of All Trades Brett Connors from Castle and Key on the eve of the release of Bourbon Batch 1 for a quick catch-up and tasting session.

The inaugural iterations consist of two separate small batches at about 80 barrels and around 4 years of age. The mash bill is 73% white corn, 10% rye, and 17% malted barley blended by Jon Brown, director of Castle & Key’s Research & Development department, along with Connors. Enough prep, let’s get down to brass tacks.

Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Batch 1 – With notes of honeycomb, orange creamsicle, and light cereal grain on the nose, Batch 1 is immediately accessible. Traditional notes of oak and vanilla eventually make an appearance, but the sweetness keeps matters interesting. The palate retains a minor oak influence with honey, nutmeg, and a touch of rye towards the end. The real fun is during a long, lovely finish where the sweetness wanes and a strong wave of rye and pepper takes over for the duration. A straight drinker that could also do well in cocktails, but why spoil the ride? 98 proof. A- / $50

Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Batch 2 – Somehow, the second batch pivots into an entirely different experience. Muted and elegant, it bursts out of the gate with mint, baking spice, and just a touch of floral influence that is instantly likable and structured in the classic bourbon profile. The finish is rounder with a heavier wood inflection than the first offering, providing an interesting contrast that never dulls thanks to oak and spice hanging around for a generous amount of time. It is hard to pick one batch over the other, but this gets the nod by just a touch. This is one to pour into your favorite glass and invest a long amount of time enjoying. 99 proof. A / $50

Along with the two bourbons, I was lucky enough to try an advance of Castle & Key’s first Restoration Rye batch of 2022.

Castle & Key Restoration Rye Batch 1 (2022) – The nose is light but informed by an enticing blend of wintergreen and a slight touch of baked cinnamon apple. The sweetness fades slightly on the palate, with a balanced blend of apricot, chestnut honey, and brown sugar. The finish hints at the cinnamon apple note but remains on course with the palate and is a touch too short. Drew recently reviewed the final 2021 batch and gave it high praise. This carries on Restoration’s quality in fine form. 113 proof. A- / $45

Castle & Key is certainly having a moment, one which is most deserved and well-earned. All three releases are right in the center of the quality vs. price Venn diagram, pleasing to the eye in art-deco-inspired bottles, and most importantly: they are versatile and well-balanced. There are more releases on the way, and it will be interesting to see what happens as the distillery rolls out aged stock and further experiments with its blending process.

Castle & Key Small Batch Bourbon Batch 1




Rob Theakston is a contributing editor to Drinkhacker.

1 Comment

  1. Joe R on September 12, 2023 at 10:11 am

    I have been trying for years to get a bottle since I found out that the old distillery was reopened. I live in California and it was not available, I finally found Batch 2 online in San Diego and after an issue with delivery, I received it. I always order 2 bottles, one to open and enjoy and one to put away, just incase of having issues getting another bottle. Bottle looks great, once opened it had a fabulous aroma and a little lite in color. I found it to be slightly harsh and it needed more time to mellow. I am a bit disappointed in the product and will hold off getting Batch 1.

Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.