Food & Wine: Marianne Barnes

© The Malicotes

Marianne Barnes

Most Innovative Women in Food and Drink

Castle & Key


“I was well-equipped to build a highly efficient fuel ethanol, but it wouldn’t have tasted very good,” Marianne Barnes says with a chuckle. “I had to learn the art and flavor of bourbon.” This former chemical engineer studied as a master taster at Brown-Forman (the vast spirits company that makes Woodford Reserve, Jack Daniel’s and Old Forester, among other brands) before making her mark, with the debut of Castle & Key distillery, as Kentucky’s first female master distiller since Prohibition. Production at the refurbished Old Taylor distillery in Woodford County begins this fall, with Barnes continuing traditions set by Old Taylor’s founder Colonel E.H. Taylor, while also bringing her scientific background into play—for instance, by testing old sediment found in the distillery’s pipes for clues into its early Bourbon recipes, and by working with a local farmer to resurrect the strain of wheat used for early Old Taylor bottlings. Barnes also plans to release a vodka and a gin, the latter made with botanicals grown on-site, and open up the distillery to the public for tours later this year.

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