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Garrard County Distilling appoints Lisa Wicker as master distiller

Lisa Wicker has joined Kentucky’s largest independent distillery after stints at Widow Jane and the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company.

Wicker will develop a portfolio of whiskeys at Garrard County Distilling as well as overseeing its contract distilling operations

Garrard Country Distilling announced in January that it had started production as the largest independently owned distillery in Kentucky, with its US$250 million campus capable of producing 8.5 million proof gallons or 150,000 barrels of whiskey a year. Today, Atlanta-based spirits company Staghorn, which owns Garrard County Distilling, has announced that Lisa Wicker will serve as master distiller.

Wicker joins Garrard County after nearly six years with Brooklyn’s Widow Jane, where she developed a portfolio of whiskeys, mentored staff and, in 2022, oversaw an acquisition by Heaven Hill. More recently, she served as CEO and master distiller for the Lexington Brewing & Distilling Company, splitting her time between Kentucky and Ireland.

Wicker said that Lexington wasn’t the right fit for her as she felt too far removed from the product and didn’t share the owner’s vision. She joined Garrard as a consultant in October 2023, before arriving on site at the beginning of 2024. After an extended period of change, Wicker finally feels settled.

“Emotionally, it’s wonderful and overwhelming,” she said. “I feel like it’s exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’ve been teaching for a very long time, and [with] wonderful teams, but here I get to learn again, I feel like I’m overdue with that.”

Part of the learning process will be familiarizing herself with the whiskey. Garrard Country currently has 17,000 barrels of sourced whiskey ageing on site, but Wicker will also work alongside an experienced team to analyze the new distillate. At Widow Jane, Wicker worked with a range of aged stocks, launching expressions with advanced age statements and inventive finishes. At Garrard, she’ll be working with much younger barrels.

“It’s exciting and nerve-wracking to come in with stocks that I’m not 100% familiar with,” she said. “It’s the same as the start at Widow Jane, but I have to get to know our whiskey and its personality inside and out.” She added that she is aiming to capture a sense of place – Garrard County hasn’t had a commercial distillery since the 1800s and was dry until Staghorn arrived – and will continue to produce whiskeys that are rich in profile.

In addition to understanding the new distillate, Wicker will also work at the largest scale of her career. She will spearhead blending for All Nations Whiskey, which she calls Staghorn founder and president Ray Franklin’s brand, in addition to growing the portfolio.

Wicker will also work alongside Garrard County’s contract distilling partners. While at Widow Jane, she travelled to Kentucky’s Castle & Key to oversee contract distilling and now finds herself on the other side of the relationship.

“Now that I’ve been treated really well as a customer, I’m hoping to extend the same sort of hospitality and collaboration with our clients,” she said.

Throughout her career, Wicker has used the phrase and hashtag #itinerantdistiller to capture her winding whiskey journey, which has included consulting gigs for brands such as the George Washington Distillery in Virginia. While she says she will continue to use the phrase, she refers to her role at Garrard County as a permanent position.

“This is a long-term arrangement,” she said. “I like to think this is my last arrangement.”

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