The Single Barrel Slow Hand Rye Series from Castle & Key

Last fall, Castle & Key unveiled its long-awaited first whiskey release, Restoration Rye. Following up on that debut is a new lineup dubbed Slow Hands, a series of single barrel rye whiskeys. The initial outlay includes four single barrels which will be rolled out one at a time beginning today and continuing throughout April, with bottle sales available exclusively at the distillery.

“After we launched Restoration, we identified a variety of really exceptional barrels,” says Brett Connors, Castle & Key’s blender and brand ambassador. He then fought to release the barrels separately, as opposed to working them into the blend of their core rye.

Each of the four barrels features a 63% rye, 20% malted barley, 17% corn mashbill. There are minor differences between the set, with barrel 237 featuring all Kentucky rye, for instance, and barrel 396 showcasing a different yeast strain. Otherwise, they’re all approximately four years of age, with barrel 396 falling a hair under that mark while the others were matured just long enough to reach their fourth birth date before bottling.

The major differences then between the four whiskeys is where they were aged. All of them were matured in the distillery’s ancient Warehouse B, pictured above during a visit to the distillery last fall, though on different floors and in different locations within the building. For a massive structure such as this—the famed warehouse is said to be the longest rickhouse in the world—that can offer a massive impact on final flavor profile and consistency.

As a case in point, barrel 281 was the only one aged on the first floor of the warehouse, and showcases a low 108.3 proof as a result. It also spent its time in the middle of the building, away from the elements. “One of the reasons I found this one the most interesting is that it’s dead center in the warehouse,” Connors says. Meanwhile, the two barrels matured on the third floor each top 115 proof.

Here’s the full lineup, with a couple of quick tasting notes for each just to illustrate some of the differences:

  • BARREL No. 237 (Proof: 115.9): Peanuts, brown sugar, maple syrup, cocoa powder. Big, rich palate. 
  • BARREL No. 281 (Proof: 108.3): Mellow and honeyed, vanilla taffy, berries, mint. 
  • BARREL No. 334 (Proof: 115.1): Doughy with zesty citrus, chocolate-covered oranges, spearmint, cherries. 
  • BARREL No. 396 (Proof: 111.9): Floral, clover honey, lavender, potpourri, stone fruit, grain-forward.*

*This one features the different yeast, and is an outlier in terms of profile. “This is the type of whiskey that we geek out about, when you try this you don’t think rye right away,” says Jon Brown, the distillery’s quality manager.

Meanwhile, the waiting game continues for Castle & Key’s inaugural bourbon release, though the target looks to be an initial release this fall, followed by a larger outlay in 2022. “The goal is to release a bourbon this year,” says Wes Murry, one of the distillery’s founding partners.

It’s been a deliberate choice to wait longer with the bourbon than they have with the rye. “With the pedigree of the facility, the history of the site, that bourbon has to be exceptional,” Connors says. “With the rye, it was already maturing exceptionally, so after releasing Restoration these were a natural followup to that.”

Anyone interested in snagging one of the initial bottles ($59.99) can check their website for more details. The team recommends you make a morning reservation time on its slated release day to give you the best shot of success. In the months ahead, the distillery plans to expand the program with additional barrel releases, and hopes to bring at least some into the market in the states they’re currently distributed.