One Proud Author: Maker’s Mark’s First Lady Enters the Bourbon Hall of Fame


September 12, 2014

When the Kentucky Distillers Association announced its only 2014 member of the Bourbon Hall-of-Fame, I received several texts, emails and phone calls congratulating me. No, I wasn’t inducted into the HOF. The lone inductee this year is Marjorie Mattingly Samuels, the woman behind the naming of Maker’s Mark, the bottle design and the brand’s trademarked dripping red wax.

Marge, Margie or Marjorie (I’ve seen all three spellings) was also the reason behind the early visitor experience at Maker’s Mark and is the reason why the distillery is on the National Register of Historic Places. So, why were people congratulating me?

Marjorie Samuels (left) with her husband Bill Samuels Sr. She joins her husband in the Bourbon Hall of Fame.
Marjorie Samuels (left) with her husband Bill Samuels Sr. She joins her husband in the Bourbon Hall of Fame.

Well, I wrote Whiskey Women and Samuels nearly received her own chapter. I’ve talked about her importance in various interviews, essays and argued on WhiskyCast that she should be in the Bourbon Hall of Fame. I believe she changed the liquor packaging industry and planted the seed for what is now the Kentucky Bourbon Trail.

I’m proud to have helped bring attention to Mrs. Samuels, and I’m also stoked what has happened since the publication of my book nearly one year ago.

Women have told me that Whiskey Women opened doors and broke the stigma associated with them in the business. In the past year, several major companies have put women in more public roles, but I don’t deserve the credit. The women breaking down barriers deserve the praise.

Woodford Reserve’s Marianne Eaves, whom I wrote about for Whisky Advocate, created her own opportunities. In her mid 20s, she became Brown-Forman’s master taster earlier this year. Mark my words, Eaves could become bourbon’s best distiller one day.

Former Diageo employee and now with Michter’s Andrea Wilson fought her guts out to save Stitzel-Weller, the historic distillery once owned by Pappy Van Winkle. While nobody is fessing up as to why Wilson is no longer with Diageo, Michter’s got lucky with Wilson.

Speaking of Michter’s, they hired Pamela Heilmann, who ran the Booker Noe Distillery in Boston, Ky. Now that Michter’s is transitioning from a sourced whiskey bottler to a full-blown distillery, Heilmann, the distiller and vice president of operations, joins Maker’s Mark’s VP of Ops Victoria MacRae-Samuels as the highest-ranking women in operations.

In my book, I argued there was no everyday whiskey named after a woman. That’s no longer true. Western Kentucky craft distiller MB Roland is actually named after a woman. Merry Beth Roland married Paul Tomaszewski, who named the distillery after his wife’s maiden name. They co-own the business.

From the ever-talented whiskey writer Liza Weisstuch to author Heather Greene and from Four Roses director of sales Patty Holland to Brown-Forman president of North America Jill Jones, women are in every aspect of the business.

They always have been, but played second fiddle to the men when it comes to recognition like the Bourbon Hall of Fame. That time is over.

There may not be a woman with the title “Kentucky master distiller,” but most master distillers report to women. If Marjorie Samuels has taught us anything, it’s better to be the boss than the worker.