Old Taylor Distillery, the Kentucky Castle

From Frankfort, Kentucky with love. Built 1887, abandoned the 1980s, and not demolished.

Zachary Taylor's very own Scottish castle, spring-side in the Kentucky backcountry. Boarded and waiting, but in surprisingly good condition, considering the decades. I especially love the tower on the right side of the frame.

Castles too rarely rise from American dirt…

…so when I saw one around a sharp bend in central Kentucky—just past a James Beam whisky warehouse—I didn’t know exactly where I was.

Old Taylor Distillery Company” said the sign on the limestone fort, flanked by a tower and unmarked red brick industrial building. Little did I know that this stunning structure was standing almost a century before I knew what good bourbon was.

The water tower during the last minutes of sunset.

Colonel E.H. Taylor Junior, an orphan-turned-bourbon-baron that loved to entertain politicians and celebrities at his whiskey factory, founded Old Taylor. Perhaps it was because he felt at home, after all, he was not only the Great Nephew of President Zachary Taylor, but he was even elected Mayor for several terms of the nearby city of Frankfort, KY.

Taylor was integral in solidifying what contemporary drinkers call bourbon whiskey; before Old Taylor’s founder’s 1897 Bottled-in-Bond Act fight, manufacturers often mixed sets of straight bourbons to achieve a level of quality in their drink. Colonel Taylor, though, believed in distilling right the first time.


Designed by Taylor himself, the spring house was the site of many parties in its day. You can imagine sipping fresh-tapped whiskey here with your Sunday clothes with soft music and the sounds of the river mixing in the background. Note the key-hole-shaped spring hole.

Fermenters and mixing tanks fill this brewing room. The lighting is all natural, and is partially owed to a crumbling wall letting the sunset blast the interior in almost perfect profile.

The Bottled-in-Bond Act ensured bourbon whiskey would be the product of one distillation season at a single distillery, and that the product would then be stored in federally bonded warehouses under supervision at the distillery or bottling location for at least 4 years. Whiskey would have to test 100-proof (or 50 percent alcohol) at time of storage. Regulations like this shaped what we now consider to be true Kentucky bourbon.

Tours of the distillery were still offered through 1974, though the doors closed sometime in the following decade. By then a firm called National Distillers was operating the facilities, much in the original condition as Taylor did, though almost a century later.

Water was still being pumped through the Spring House (personally designed by Taylor) so often used for parties and into the distillery building where it was blended with corn, wheat, and sometimes rye. Then, yeast would be added to the big yellow fermenting tanks where the bacteria would convert the natural sugars in the grain into alcohol.

Detail view of one of the fermenting tanks.

The fermenting grain-water mixture would be distilled until the desired alcohol content was reached, then the alcohol would be barreled in new, charred oak barrels in the nearby federally bonded warehouse, in this case shared with the nearby Old Crow distillery.

In the past few years, Buffalo Trace Distillery of Frankfort, KY has acquired the rights to produce bourbon under the Old Taylor name—hopefully the reintroduction of the brand will inspire the stabilization and preservation of the now quite endangered Kentucky bourbon landmark.


Between the Old Crow and Old Taylor bonded warehouses are some of the fouled barrels, now the only ones left, which were left to rot in the elements. Nearby in a loading bay that has obviously been disused longer than the rest of the property, terra cotta roofing waits in crates.

This image was an attempt to reproduce the effect of being drunk while walking through an empty whiskey bonded warehouse-stockhouse. The building is now being used to store building materials.

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References »

  • "Bottled in bond." Wikipedia. (2011). http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bottled_in_bond (accessed May 13, 2012).
  • Cowdery, Chuck. "Sazerac Acquires Old Taylor.."Chuck Cowdery (blog), June 29, 2009. http://chuckcowdery.blogspot.com/2009/06/sazerac-acquires-old-taylor.html (accessed May 13, 2012).
  • Deese, Wynelle, and First . Postcard history series: Kentuck'ys Bluegrass. Arcadia Publishing, http://books.google.com/books?id=ReNMBz-H-9AC (accessed May 13, 2012).
  • Lipman, John F. American Whiskey, "Frankfort & Glenn's Creek: Bourbon's Real Kentucky Home." Last modified 1999. Accessed May 13, 2012. http://www.ellenjaye.com/ghosts.htm.
  • Scott, Berkeley, and Jeanine Scott. Images of America: The Kentucky Bourbon Trail. Arcadia Publishing, 2009. http://books.google.com/books?id=5rc6PPtHiNoC (accessed May 13, 2012).
  • Thomas, Bill. Tripping in America: off the beaten track. Chilton Book Co, 1974. http://books.google.com/books?id=YEMIAQAAMAAJ (accessed May 13, 2012).