Former Old Taylor Distillery to Name Woman Its Bourbon Master Distiller


February 21, 2015

It looks like I’ll need to revise Whiskey Women, where I state Kentucky does not have a female master distiller. According to sources close to the situation, Marianne Barnes will become the master distiller at the new distillery once known as Old Taylor.

Barnes, 28, was formerly the master taster at Brown-Forman and assisted with blending Old Forester.

Brown-Forman has confirmed her departure.

Marianne Barnes will become the new master distiller / head distiller for the former Old Taylor Distillery.
Marianne Barnes will become the new master distiller / head distiller for the former Old Taylor Distillery.

She was the lead blender for the special release Old Forester Whiskey Row 1870 Original Batch. A rising star in the distilling business, Barnes, a chemical engineer from the University of Louisville, said she was considering two internships—one for a renewable energy company and the other for Brown-Forman. She told me in a Whisky Advocate interview last year: “I was thinking about all the different things I can make with corn and thought: ‘Why make fuel when you can make bourbon?’”

During the Whiskey Row 1870 launch, Woodford Reserve and Old Forester master distiller Chris Morris told reporters: “This is the first bourbon blended by a woman in the modern era.”

Although several female craft bourbon distillers would dispute that claim, Morris’ well-intended point was likely Kentucky-specific and illustrated his confidence in Barnes. She was listed in Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Profile and featured in CNBC’s Dream Job segment. Barnes became a media darling, but her engineering mind is even more impressive.

She joins Maker’s Mark’s Victoria MacRae-Samuels, VP of Operations, and Michter’s Pamela Heilmann, VP of production, as the highest-ranking ladies in bourbon production. But Barnes, whose title has not been confirmed, will likely become Kentucky’s first female master / head distiller since Prohibition.

Her new distillery home is the former Old Taylor facility in Woodford County—known for its castle structure—that will be renamed and is currently under renovation. The current Whisky Advocate issue contains details on the multi-million renovation.

As for its new distiller, I’ve spent a great deal of time with Barnes, and she’s the most-impressive young production mind I’ve ever met. I’m eager to see what she will accomplish in her new role. And of course, when I talk about Whiskey Women, I can say Kentucky finally has a true female master distiller.

It’s about time.



Fred Minnick is the author of Whiskey Women.