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Barnes becomes Kentucky’s first female master distiller

The protégé of Woodford Reserve master distiller Chris Morris has joined Old Taylor Distillery to become Kentucky’s first female master distiller.

Marianne Barnes (centre) has become a partner in the Old Taylor distillery along with Will Arvin and Wesley Murry

The appointment of Marianne Barnes, who spent five years under Morris at Brown-Forman, most recently as master taster, has been described as “historic”.

Barnes has joined Kentucky entrepreneurs Will Arvin and Wesley Murry to renovate and reopen the Old Taylor Distillery, including its iconic castle and gardens.

However, the whiskey produced at the new distillery will be sold under a new brand name, which is set to be revealed in the coming weeks.

Barnes said: “The opportunity of being part of this team and resurrecting a distillery using my technical engineering skills to create a great product that we can be proud of was too good to pass up.

“Being mentored by Woodford’s legendary master distiller Chris Morris was one of the best things that ever happened to me; learning from him really brought all of my studies and hard work together.”

Fred Minnick, whisky writer, called Barnes’ appointment a “historic day for Kentucky and Bourbon”.

“Although many brands have always had women in their production departments, this coveted title has not been bestowed upon a Kentucky woman,” he said.

“Even when women were a company’s top distiller, the term master distiller was not used and women didn’t receive the same public respect as the men. Now that Marianne Barnes takes this title, she honours all the women past, present and future as the first woman to rise up the production ranks at a major Kentucky Bourbon company and become a master distiller.”

The Old Taylor Distillery and its 83 acres of grounds, was bought by Arvin and Murry for US$950,000 in May 2014, and will be renovated into a distillery and visitors’ centre with an additional US$6m investment.

The distillery is expected to start producing spirit by the end of this year – with a target of eventually producing 200,000 cases annually, and open to the public next spring.

The distillery was first built in the 1880s by former Frankfort mayor Colonel Taylor, but was mothballed in the 1970s.

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