Marianne Barnes, Master Distiller at The Distillery Formally Known as Old Taylor, discusses her new role, what everyone can expect coming from this revitalization, and insights into what it takes to be a master distiller.
- Tell us a little bit about your past
- How does chemical engineering play into this role?
- Talk to us about why we have you on the show
- Are you going to keep the name Old Taylor name or will it be renamed?
- What’s being invested into restoring the distillery?
- Where is the distillery in relation to the bourbon trail?
- Where do you see this business in the next 5 years?
- How do you measure success?
- What can you do differently versus Brown-Forman?
- What does it mean to be a woman in this male dominated field?
- Talk to us a little bit about what made you so successful and why you were chosen for this role
- What is going to set your bourbon apart from everything else on the market?
- When is the distillery going to be up and running?
- Follow Marianne Barnes on Facebook
So we’ll just kind of just go back and forth banter and then we’ll kind of key you and we’ll talk about what it is blah, blah, blah, blah, blah your history all kind of say like, you know, what can we know about you that you couldn’t read off of Wikipedia or whatever?
bringing to you the best stories from icons in the bourbon industry, it’s bourbon pursuit. Now here, your host Ryan and coming
back with another episode of the bourbon pursuit podcast. My name is Kenny and as always at my co host, Ryan with me, Brian, how you doing today? Doing good man. Good man. You know really excited about today we got Marianne Barnes from the old Taylor distillery, which is being revamped, formerly formerly formerly known as old Taylor. So it’s being revamped and revitalized, really excited. I really don’t know much about it. Just know there was a castle, and I know
I’m really excited to find out a little bit about the hit.
History and what they got planned for us. It’s gonna be one of those days where we didn’t do like tons and tons of research up front, because there’s not a whole lot that you can really find, I mean, except for in the history books or whatever, but it’s going to be good day to actually hear it from the horse’s mouth. That’s right. So let’s go ahead and introduce our guests. So today we have Marian Barnes now I’ve never heard of Marion Barnes you can Google or she’s got all kinds of news stories lately. She’s the, the the woman of she’s like the I guess you could say like the iconic woman of whiskey right now. So that is a good way to kind of put it right. So if anybody doesn’t know Marian Barnes is actually I’m not going to go ahead and do everything but she is going to be the master distiller at the formerly known as old Taylor distillery. So Marianne, go ahead and first Welcome to the show. It kind of just tell us a little bit about who you are in your background. Thanks so much, Kenny. My background is chemical engineering. I grew up I always say in and around global I’m grouping Oldham county and Cecil B school grad and I graduated in 2012. I started at Brown Forman back in 2009. So
Were there in r amp D research and development really, and that’s where I learned how to make whiskey. So I didn’t grow up in a whiskey making family my dad drink scotch I saw a bottle of Jim Beam on the shelf every now and again. You
know, he’s a pilot so he travels all i think that’s how he got into the scotch world but he is totally converted to bourbon now, ever since I worked for brown Forman he’s just completely completely moved over. Now, before we go any further since you did work for brown Forman now I’ve interviewed there and I kind of know a little bit about like you have this ambassador program so were you an ambassador for particular brain way there I’m assuming it’s going to be Woodford Reserve but go ahead. So we they did product promotion, money and all that good stuff. I wasn’t a ambassador of any brand in particular, but I was the master taster for the whiskey brands. So when I was out talking about stuff, it was always either old forester Woodford Reserve
it makes sense for
So give us a little bit of a background about how like chemical engineering plays into this right. And when we’ve talked to a few master distillers, I guess this is one question I’ve always been kind of intrigued about is if you want to get into this industry and you kind of want to know about how people climb to the top and the background in history, they have like, What does chemical engineering really play into this sort of role? It’s really important for a technical distilling job, you use all of the major unit operations that you learn in chemical engineering school. So distillation fermentation, reactors, heat exchange, all the things that you learn the intimate details of how to calculate in size in an engineering school. It’s, you know, hands on every day and the distillery so it was really exciting to get a co op at Brown Forman and start to use what I learned in school we have a well they run foreman has a micro distillery like a small pilot plant in the r&d facility.
so i was out there all the time if it wasn’t working out there i was just tinkering learning the equipment you know playing around they allowed us to be really creative actually to design some of our own experiments so from the time i started as an intern they were letting me develop my own whiskey recipes which was pretty exciting now did you have to leave them with
an ipa those barrels are still there
so i just talked to us about what’s the future happening with you right what’s what’s gonna be happening here and why we have you on the show but it’s just super exciting so i made the choice to leave brown forman and it was not an easy decision at all i had an amazing opportunity there an amazing career trajectory i was training with master distiller chris morris to become essentially the next woodford reserve master distiller i had achieved master taster there so it wasn’t lightly that i chose to make this move i saw the opportunity
When you walk on the side and old Taylor, it’s a limestone castle for one thing, and you walk around and you feel the history there. It’s kind of like walking back in time. It’s hard not to fall in love. And then after I met my partners will urban and West Murray that you just feed off of their passion and excitement for the project. And I was really impressed with them and their plans. And it just felt right to get plugged in and help revive this site, bring it back to life and really get to put my stamp on it and develop brand new recipes as opposed to continuing and 80 year tradition and my own. Yeah, I mean, that’s also one of the things that probably a lot of listeners should know is that even though it’s going to be the formerly known as old Taylor distillery, I guess, is there gonna be a new name or is it going to still be old Taylor, how do you What’s the kind of thought process behind there? We would love to give the name but unfortunately, we can’t. That trademark is owned by another company. And this around wish Buffalo Trace.
yeah so we will not be able to use the old Taylor name it we will be renaming it in in. It’s been one of the hardest things for us it’s been a real challenge to figure out what we’re going to name a place it’s been the old Taylor distillery since 1887. So it’s going to be a new name the whiskey and the distillery are going to share a name to honor the place and in the history there. And then our Gen so I don’t know if you all are we’re in the know there. Were going to be making gin somehow. Yeah.
Got to take some few years and just put a bourbon out, right. So you gotta you gotta you gotta be able to make something up front to get some more dollars rolling in and say, Hey, so we’ll be making gin. So aside from just tourism and events, we’re going to make money by having a Kentucky botanical at a state grown botanical recipe gin, all the channels we’ve grown on site. It’ll be a whiskey base recipe.
And that will have a different name than the distillery and the brown spirits, old barns.
So but there is going to be there are plants or whiskey in the future and all that sort of stuff. Either whiskey it’ll be our bourbon recipe will be the first one off the still and then we make engine short shortly after that they’re going to kind of tag off of one another because so we’re getting to stills we’re getting a we’re downsizing from the 72 inch column still there, which is monstrous. We’re going to actually later this week pulled that one out with a crane in
late summer we’re going to be dropping in our 24 inch Vendome copper column still for whiskey. And then we’re also going to have a stainless steel gin still that we can make a pure GNS with if we wanted to. And then we’re having a copper copper pot still that will feed both systems. So we’re going to run whiskey and then at the end of a whiskey run. We’re going to stay somewhere
That moving into the gym still and then distill gin from that with the recipe, whether it’s right or mold or bourbon recipe. So it sounds like there’s a whole hell of a lot that’s going on there. A lot, I guess maybe a lot of our listeners don’t understand is that old Taylor was almost in ruins. Right? I mean, it was I think if I, if I did my googling correctly, I mean, it was the point where people were taking the limestone and taking places from it and shipping it off, and they were building houses out in California or Texas or wherever, with the stones, everything that was there because it was basically just rubble. So what is kind of the plans are, I guess how much money you have to say how much money but I guess what’s being invested into, you know, revitalizing it or restoring it or what everything like that. So I would, I would say this site wasn’t necessarily in ruins, the former owner started disassembling it. They were like a reclaimed materials company. So there were two warehouses across the road from the castle that they completely dismantle. They took
The old heart pine out and started selling that as you know reclaimed wood. So it was slowly being dismantled but not fully ruin yet. We did have now somebody shelves.
Right? Yeah Nice patio.
That’s right. So once you clear away all the brush so it almost felt like walking through a poke post apocalyptic world. It’s like one of those National Geographic TV Shows what the world light is like when nature takes over after humans have been gone for a couple decades. So after that was all cleared away, you could see that the structures were in really pretty good shape. So we needed windows and rooms and we’ve actually completed the roof on the warehouse. The 540 foot long warehouse is the longest wrecked warehouse or warehouse of its kind in the world. And I’m going to keep saying so until somebody
layers that we completed that we’re going to end up having trouble
place about a third of the recurring inside but we’re open for business to take barrels we’re not getting us all that capacity ourselves it holds about 33 35,000
barrels wow well and we’re going to be using can’t say exactly how many in the first year because we’re still figuring out exactly how much we’re going to be making and then we have another warehouse it’s a cement warehouse it’s got four stories and it can be palette eyes and hold about 65,000 barrels we’ve got a bunch of storage even though we lost three warehouses so there was a lot of stores what to say and not with that with a warehouse the you said that the largest one in the world now if we if we think about then you’re going to know this because you’re the master taster i mean is there going to be a difference in like the way the barrels tastes from one end to the other that’s a big possibility especially since the way it was built their own fans on one side so it would pull air on one side and it would have to come all the way from the other side so creative ventilation we could be changing that orientation
And maybe adding some fans to the other side of what when we open up the windows that’ll change the way the air works in there. So it’s just going to take some time to feel it out and figure out that’s right say what I do you’re going to have next week that you’re gonna have to go back and have meetings about right? Yeah, exactly. Exactly. So the and speaking of construction and where the site is today we’ve completed the roof on the castle we’re in the process of replacing windows we’ve gone in and started cleaning up some of the old equipment inside the castle. So we are going to be reusing the old fermentation tanks the old grain silos the old day bins the meal Ben’s the cooker we just going to retrofit we got to Sam blast them and coach them that’s cool. So I guess give some our listeners like where this is in relation to Kentucky to because everybody kind of knows like Elton Lexington you got Barcelona gala right? Oh, so we’re in relation to everything else is old Taylor. So old Taylor’s really easy to find it’s in Woodford County and it’s actually about four miles down the road from Woodford
Reserve on the same road on McCracken. So whether you go down grassy springs or if you come down, Duncan, you’ll turn right onto McCracken lane and you’ll either password further and you’ll be going the opposite way. I mean, I can’t miss it. Yeah, I mean here in a perfect spot for that’s what drives in Kentucky. You right through there. Yeah, I always tell people when they come and visit, there’s like which distillery go to be like I always say, you know, Woodford Reserve is great, right? I mean, you’re not going to go and be amazed by 10s of different kinds of Bourbons, they do anything like that. But when you drive up, it’s quintessential Kentucky, it is rolling field, it’s horse farms and everything like that. And you guys will be able to feed off that very, very nicely. So it was definitely it’s a it’s a definitely good spot to have. So let’s also talk about, you know what, what you’re going to be seeing here, maybe five to 10 years in the future. I mean, where do you kind of see this, this business kind of going? Absolutely. We’re going to set the stage distribution wise with the gin and the bourbon. I’ll just end up following that. Wherever wherever it goes. Hopefully that’s a huge success. I see the gym
Jin growth really coming up fast. I don’t go anywhere in Nazi gin on the cocktail menu so that it’s it’s very versatile and good summer I love Hendricks gin. Me too. Yeah, it’s tasty. It’s a good one. I don’t drink gin. So I guess I gotta
hold a conversation with you.
Well, we’re going to be, as I said, making the bourbon drinkers gin and as soon as we have bourbon so as you said, five years down the road, it’s about when you’ll see a bourbon style product from us before that will have rye whiskey out hopefully really some that around three years, and then potentially an American mall a little bit sooner, looking at maybe smoking it like a scotch style. Not with Pete but with some other different types of wood. There’s a lot of different things that I can play with. And I’m actually getting my countertops from my laboratory installed this week. So this is a big week. Yeah, number new mechanic Thompson so I can actually start unboxing
Yeah exactly work that’s the real tinkering Yeah, that’s what to say it’s that’s way beyond my comprehension like I couldn’t imagine like you’ve got beakers and all this other kind of stuff going on there and measuring it’s like a mad scientist lab to kind of figure out how this works yeah but your mole skin notebooks worth a lot all your ideas
I keep one by the bed so if I wake up from a dream about a generous here with us, we can write it down. So I guess let’s talk about that since you said you’ve you’ve tasted or tried so many different recipes. Now, how how far do you go to like trying something and then saying like, Okay, this is good. We can make a product out of this or like, I guess you could say like, you have 1000 failures in one success, like what’s the kind of rate that you look at if when you try all these different things and, and kind of nail down a single product
and something new, so I did some of that at Brown Forman but they have, you know, very established brands. So,
you know, they know exactly what they’re looking for every single time. I
coming out with a new product you’re not trying to make old forester tastes like Lacroix so you’re staying within that wheelhouse so it’s it’s
a little more focused innovation will say that way. With my this new projects, you know, the kind of the, the sky’s the limit, I can look at different types of grains that aren’t traditionally used in Bourbons. I can use different types of casting. I’m looking at yeast strains currently. And that’s just the Wild Wild West. Yeah, that’s what we’re going to use. So apparently, that’s like one of the most proprietary things and then the kind of whiskey and bourbon industry, right. So that’s like, that’s probably the hardest thing to kind of figure out because essentially, is the heart of whatever batch or whatever you’re making at that point, right? And that the strains are just there’s infinite numbers and the character that you’re looking for is shaped by the yeast. It’s your grain recipe that use the way you distill it the way you mature it but you know, 40% of your flavor is coming from
What’s happening before maturation seed. So anybody out there that’s actually listening right? So you got to know that yeast is really where the secret is. So, yeah, so if you’re trying to hunt them down,
go find your own mini Vendome and start your backyard, right?
Yeah. So let’s talk a little bit about maybe what can you do differently at but formerly known as old Taylor versus when you’re brown form, I’m guessing it’s more experimentation more putting your kind of spin on everything, right. So kind of talk about what makes you excited to be able to begin this journey. I’m super excited about the opportunity to get out there in the field with the farmers developing relationships with the guys that are going to be making the barrels going directly into the laboratory where the strains are going to be cultured, you know, they do that at Brown Forman but we have a they have a department for everything. So there’s very specialized people that are doing all these tasks at old Taylor that’s me. I’m that Yeah.
Yeah, yeah, yeah,
I am responsible for all of those things. And that’s really exciting and a huge opportunity for me to learn and get my feet, feet wet and all of these things. So I’m super excited to, you know, go out and meet the farmers and talk to him about how the fertilization schedule impacts the size of the grain and what we’re going to be looking for specifically as a distiller and helping them to learn while I’m learning about what they do. And I you know, I’m actually going to be out there on a combined harvesting wheat that could potentially go into one of our projects, so I just can’t wait about that. That’s going to be a couple of weeks I don’t know any other distiller maybe there’s been another
right on combine, but
it was like an official startup mode, right? Yeah. What it is because a lot of people we talked to least master distiller wise of, they’re not doing all that right. They don’t they don’t touch that aspect and more or less, they all have become marketers for their particular brand. Right. So
Of course, they still do the tasting they choose the premium barrels, whatever it’s going to be. But yeah, a lot of it turned into kind of a marketing game. But yeah, it’s kind of good to see that you’re getting kind of sticking to the roots and kind of figuring out like, Oh, this is where it’s going to be now, since you are going to be a master distiller and you are one of the actually probably one of the first women master distiller six since prohibition, at least from a research that I could do. So what’s it I guess it mean to kind of be a woman in this this time of whiskey and being able to say, like, at this point, my career I’ve gotten to this, it’s really exciting. You know, I’ve been kind of the only woman in a male dominated field for a long time. I even back in high school, I was doing automotive at the Oldham county Career Center and changing oil and a group. I think there was two other girls in my class of like 20 or so. So I’ve always been, you know, kind of comfortable in that setting and never, never been treated any differently, I guess. And you know, just one of the one of the guys the guys
So I’m very comfortable in in the place that I am. And it’s been a very warm welcome from the industry. I think it’s taking the consumers a little bit longer to warm up to it. But, you know, the the old guard is passing and we’re, I think it’s just so exciting and you know, we’re seeing more women consumers, more female consumers more of these like bourbon women, whiskey, cigs, whiskey, women,
all these different groups and I’m, there’s a million that I didn’t say, but it really embracing women and brown spirits. And that’s coming into the industry as well. There are organizations such as loads, ladies of American distilling that are really bringing visibility to women that are in distilling, but maybe not that the head of this distillery you know, you see women that are running the bottling lines and women that are in the distillery doing day to day functions, not that the master distiller per se or
distillers you know there are a bunch of female distillers out there and I’m I’m just so excited to be part of this heard that is moving in you know it’s really exciting becoming a woman of whiskey icon if you all
know in our circle of friends Bourbons gotten a lot popular with the women not my my wife hasn’t taken on to that but a lot of her friends are starting to drink old fashions and just sampling Bourbons it’s pretty cool how just you know used to be just a man’s drink supposedly, but now it has definitely taken on with the women and everything so that’s it that’s one of the ways that happens to you so you start with maybe a flavored whiskey hate to say it and then you go to
and then you go to a nice cocktail with bourbon with a nice bourbon and you maybe go to one that’s a little more bourbon forward you can taste it more and then you’re willing to try some taste of straight bourbon and this is how your palate
drinker they bourbon or did it? Yes, it starts off with Coke.
bourbon and coke and then they go to maybe a rocks and then you slowly slowly wean yourself on barrel proof like me and
you know it’s funny so this last weekend i went to the bourbon affair event earlier the opening of it and it was it was a really good mix of i mean it was i’d say at least probably 6040 men and women there and but i mean i sat at the table and i see women sitting there drinking whiskey and bourbon eat them like about it right i was just like i was like yeah so i’m sitting here with you know my one ice cube right just trying to mellow it down for some of them we always drinking some wild turkey rare breed and i had to kind of mellow that one down a little bit for me but i mean it was it was still is very very positive to kind of see that in that environment
so i guess also kind of talk to us a little bit about what do you think is made you successful so far and why you were chosen to be the master distiller formerly known as old taylor i am very passionate about this industry and about the work that is done in this industry and making
high quality spirits I worked really hard I learned really fast I love to learn so I think that’s one of the most important things about it is you never get to the point where you know everything and I think that you know
all the mass every master distiller out there would say the same thing you never get to the point where you know everything you’re constantly bouncing ideas off of other people that you know, their master distillers that you know and and learning from them because there’s no to distilleries that run exactly the same way.
Well, that’s that’s also interesting to kind of know and, you know, we talked about the East trains a little bit earlier and how that kind of kind of differs, all the different bourbon products from one another, kind of give us an idea of, you know, what do you think’s gonna make when you get to the point of being able to release a bourbon is going to be like, what’s going to set you apart in this kind of, I don’t say it’s not a flooded market, but it’s it’s a market that we see has a lot of established brands, established brands and you’ve got these other people that they go in
They buy three different barrels from somewhere else. They blend them together and they say we’ve got our own right and then you see these things on the shelf and you’re like, I’ve never even heard of this before. And so I guess what’s going to make you the kind of stand out amongst something on the shelves? I think first of all, our brand is going to have a little bit of a leg up because of the history of this site. So we have a limestone castle It was built in 1887 and by a colonel eh Taylor, who was bourbon royalty and put a huge stamp on the industry with a bottle and Bond Act, but also bringing that elegance and sophistication really bringing an experience to the industry. I mean, we he had European formal gardens on the side of the distillery built a beautiful spring house that has the European style, the solid limestone columns, and just knowing how passionate he was about bringing honesty and transparency, transparency and authenticity to the industry. So our idea our brand strategy is to take that bottle and bond and his idea of that relationship that bond between
The consumer and the distiller to in a modern era. So it’s not all that you know, it’s different today so we’re not looking to bottle and bond because we don’t know what ever but everything else is, you know, we know it’s we see we know it’s made here there, it’s not going to kill us
responsibly everything’s in moderation right?
Right no no paint thinner no arsenic, no tobacco to in the in the bottle nowadays because we have all of these different regulating entities. So we want to bring bond to a new era in a way that it’s really relevant. So being 100% transparent being as authentic as possible will doing things in a way that we would be proud of and that Colonel Taylor would be proud of. So knowing exactly where your green came from, knowing the farmer when it was harvested. What why the yeast during World
was chosen. Obviously, we’re not going to provide all the genetics because that would just be
anybody could make it at that point. Yeah, that’s right. But we’re going to tell you the character and we’re going to tell you you know, where it was in the warehouse and why and as as transparent as much information as we can provide statements a statement, exactly, you’re going to know when it went into the warehouse and when it came out, and why we blended it the way it was. So being you know, is as honest as we possibly can. Right so that’s what you’re looking for like a good blended bourbon, you thinking about doing single barrels from different parts of the warehouse or as good as this one of the things that you write down in your notebook at nine you try to throw it to the crowd and see what kind of happens that’s right. You know, there is a little bit of a balance there. I have all these ideas for new products, but how many do you really push out there at the same time, so you got to grow a brand so that you have brand awareness and then figuring out you know, when is the right time to release these different things is I can put out 20 Bourbons right now, but you know, it
He said before, there are a million different products on the shelf that you just have no idea what they are or where they came from or why they’re special. So we get it, we get it, we get to make that relationship and tell you why we’re special before we expect your purchase. You’re already on the first step of brand awareness by coming on here because you’re going to get at least 10 million followers now on Facebook.
have these days, we will grow with you.
Well, good. So we’re getting to the top of the show here, run into that 30 minute mark, you know, is there anything you kind of want to leave our listeners with like, what they can expect here in the next? You know, I guess what is what is what do you think you’re gonna be up and running to actually start making Jen and getting that out the door. Thank you for asking that. So I’m going to be making product dealing by the end of the year. It’ll be December January, the very latest, so we could potentially be in distribution for Jin early next year. However, the site will be open for tours and visits until spring next year. So spring 2016 and
That’s super exciting. But I did want to let all the listeners know that if you want to check in on the project or even though we don’t have a name yet you can find me on Facebook I, Marian Barnes have a public figure page pictures and since like, the choice between him or her and Kim Kardashian,
which one you’re going to follow? But yeah, you click the like button, you know,
it’s great, actually, you know, I that’s why I was able to contact you through there originally. And I kind of looked through some of your old posts, you know, you you post pictures of stuff and you’re like, guess what, this is right. Like, oh, it’s an old grains still or it’s something like that, right? Yeah. So it’s definitely really cool to kind of follow along on Twitter, see the progress of what’s actually happening there. So you get you know, real time picture updates and everything that’s going on with distillery and and that’s how you’re probably going to stay up to date until you come up with a name and a website and a mailing list Right, right. Yeah, only got Facebook for now. We’ll probably be getting some more of those social media things go in as soon as we have a name. Yeah. So
Facebook and then you know, start looking for Twitter’s and Instagram and all that good stuff later on well Awesome. Well Marion again, thank you for being on the show today it was a pleasure to talk to you and Yeah, kind of. Yeah,
super excited can’t wait. Yeah, well we’ll probably try to get you back here maybe a year to bump and we’ll kind of kind of figure out you know what, where the brand’s going with, with some of the products you’re thinking about and what’s aging and will kind of be released for the next release as well. So we gotta get you all out to the distillery to me Yeah.
Great. So if you want to be able to follow us along on Instagram or Twitter, go ahead and follow us at bourbon pursuit. Subscribe to us on iTunes. You can also like us on Facebook along with Marianne. Yep. Thanks again for coming on. It was super awesome. If you guys ever have any suggestions or feedback, just let us know. And we’ll see you next time.