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The First Female Master Distiller in Kentucky-Marianne Barnes

Hattiesburg, MS

The Castle & Key distillery situated in Frankfort, Kentucky, has named the state’s first female master distiller, Marianne Barnes. There hasn’t been a female master distiller in Kentucky since before the Prohibition era. There are few women in the distilling business, but Barnes is proving that making spirits is not just a man’s job. Her entry into this position could pave the way for many other female master distillers in the future.

Although the bourbon industry is known for its “old boy” network, Barnes has been widely praised and accepted by many of her male peers. Barnes began her career at Old Forrester distillery, working her way up to become a master taster, and now the master distiller for Castle & Key. As a graduate of the University of Louisville with an undergraduate degree in chemical engineering, she learned her trade of bourbon distilling at Brown-Foreman. Working her way up the ranks, she earned the title of master distiller. Her passion, hardwork, determination, and natural talent helped get her to where she is today.

Castle & Key is a new name for sure, but the actual distillery is not. Made of limestone, it originally began as a distillery back in 1887 when whiskey pioneer Colonel E.H. Taylor opened the doors for business as the Old Taylor Distillery. The distillery was thought to look like a castle, because of its unique architecture and design. The castle changed owners many times over the decades until 1972. Although the Old Taylor Distillery was shut down, the name lives on, E.H. Taylor Jr. brands are owned by Sazerac. For the last 40 or so years, the castle has been left vacant, slowly turning into ruin, although it never lost its authentic charm to bourbon enthusiasts.

A couple of years ago, an investment group purchased the castle to preserve this precious piece of history. Millions of dollars later, Castle & Key begins. Although a start-up distillery now, it is proposed to becoming a large-scale producer of bourbon. It is amazing to see how far everything has come – from near ruins to a beautifully restored piece of history.

Barnes has big plans for Castle & Key including making a variety or whiskeys such as bourbon, rye, American single malt whiskey, and wheated bourbon. There are also plans to use locally sourced botanicals along with unaged bourbon to distill a gin and vodka. Since bottled-in-bond bourbon has to be aged for four years, by law, you will have to be patient. Barnes promises to take no shortcuts in setting a precedent for Castle & Key’s signature spirit. It will be worth the wait!

We hope that you enjoyed learning a bit more about Castle & Key Distillery and their new master distiller, Marianne Barnes. For a wide selection of whiskey, bourbon, and other popular spirits, please visit Lincoln Road Package Store. We also offer a wide selection of wine, liquors, and liqueurs. For questions, please call Lincoln Road Package Store at (601) 268-3677 or send an e-mail to

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