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Issue 128 - The First ‘Kentucky' Lady

Whisky Magazine Issue 128
June 2015


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The First ‘Kentucky' Lady

Bourbon County has its first female Master Distiller

History has been made this year. In February, I learned a prominent whiskey female would be leaving her ‘Master Taster' post at Brown-Forman to take a ‘Master Distiller' job title at the former Old Taylor Distillery. This move was historic for two reasons.

Known for its castle structure, Old Taylor closed in 1972 and the new owners plan to change the name and are currently refurbishing one of the most-important distilleries in bourbon history. When they named Marianne Barnes their Master Distiller, she became the first woman with the coveted Kentucky Bourbon Master Distiller title since Prohibition and perhaps ever.

A chemical engineer, Barnes had worked for Brown-Forman since 2009 and became most known for blending the Old Forester Whiskey Row 1870 Original Batch. I knew Barnes would one day become a Master Distiller; she's a true talent. But I always assumed it would be at Brown-Forman. Although surprised by her move, I was not shocked another company saw her skills.

My enthusiasm for Barnes' accomplishment was a little more subjective than the normal job switch story. When I wrote Whiskey Women: The Untold Story of How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey, no woman had risen up the ranks at a major company and earned Master Distiller in Kentucky. Based on my research, I found several 1800s era women who could qualify for the title, but there was no evidence they were actually called Master Distiller. Of course, what does Master Distiller even mean? You h...

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