Can Science Help a New Bourbon Taste Like a Bottle from 1917?
A new distillery in Kentucky used the past to influence its forthcoming bourbons.
Attempting to restore a distillery built in 1887 is no easy job, but that’s what the founders of Castle & Key Distillery set out to do. In 2014, Will Arvin and Wes Murry bought grounds formerly owned by bourbon distiller Colonel Edmund Haynes Taylor Jr. in Millville, Kentucky, with the hopes of returning the now decaying facilities — which included a European-inspired castle — to their former glory. This past September, their dream was realized when Castle & Key opened to the public, but as NPR recently reported, Master Distiller Marianne Eaves has perhaps an even loftier goal: recreating one of E.H. Taylor’s bourbons.
During the distillery’s renovation, Eaves apparently came across a bottle of 1917 Old Taylor bourbon — an artifact of a distillery that hadn’t produced any new spirits since 1972. But just as Castle & Key was using the old ground for the basis of its new brand, Eaves had an idea to also use this century-old bourbon to inform the brand’s new products. “The most dominant flavor in that 1917 bourbon was the butterscotch note,” she told NPR. “That's something that bourbon aficionados and the ‘dusty hunters’ recognize about historic Old Taylor bourbon is this beautiful, rich, creamy, sweet butterscotch note — and the mouthfeel of that particular bottle was really unique for a historic whiskey.”
Unfortunately, though the bottle survived, the recipe did not. However, armed with a background in chemical engineering, Eaves turned to science for the answer. “We decided to use a good old-fashioned ‘GC’ — gas chromatography,” she was quoted as saying. “Then we looked at these chemical compounds and from there, we were able to figure out what grains he was using, [and found] a yeast strain that has a similar flavor profile…. So that's how we went about it and constructed our recipe based on it, loosely. We didn't really want to replicate what he was making exactly, but take those flavor cues from the past, and then model our recipe around that.”
Castle & Key’s bourbon is currently being aged, so just how much the new whiskey will taste like that 1917 whiskey likely won’t be known to the public until around 2022, according to the Courier-Journal. Still, waiting just three years to taste something inspired by a 105-year-old bourbon doesn’t seem like a terrible trade-off.