Lexington, Kentucky

Breaking Barriers One Barrel at a Time

Marianne Eaves is making more than bourbon—she’s making history

Marianne Eaves

Inhale through the mouth. Exhale through the nose—sip. Hints of vanilla, almond and butterscotch tickle the palate. As the Master Distiller at Castle & Key Distillery, this is part of a normal day for Marianne Eaves.

Born, raised and educated in Kentucky, Eaves isn’t just a Master Distiller. She’s the first female to hold this title in Kentucky since Prohibition. And considering 95% of the world’s bourbon supply comes from Kentucky, rising through the ranks of an industry this big was no easy task.

With a degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville, Eaves was eager to put her chemistry degree to good use. After landing an internship with Brown-Forman, she stood out immediately.

She not only wanted to learn how to distill great bourbon, but she quickly developed an impeccable palate for whiskey. Her palate combined with her work ethic drove Brown-Forman to hire her fresh out of college as a Practical Taster.

Marianne Eaves
Marianne Eaves

It wasn’t long until she was promoted to Certified Taster and then Master Taster at Brown-Forman under the close attention of Woodford Reserve Master Distiller Chris Morris. But as she held the highly regarded position of Master Taster, word quickly spread of her talent and attention to detail.

In 2015 an even bigger opportunity presented itself. An opportunity just as exciting as it was risky. Two entrepreneurs with plans to open a new distillery on the historic site of the Old Taylor Distillery wanted her to work for them, but not as a Master Taster—as the Master Distiller.

“I’m really honored to be a face of a movement in the industry for women embracing STEM careers, but also women getting behind booze. In Kentucky, women have enjoyed bourbon for years and we’re finally getting some recognition,” said Eaves.

Built in 1887 by Col. E.H. Taylor, Old Taylor Distillery had been abandoned for over a century, and bourbon hadn’t been distilled on the site since its abandonment. An opportunity to become Master Distiller meant that Eaves had the creative reigns to craft a bourbon mash bill entirely from scratch, as well as spirits like dry gin and vodka—she accepted the position and the distillery was soon named Castle & Key Distillery.

“We’ve resurrected Castle & Key to honor the legacy of Colonel E.H. Taylor, who was known as the Father of Modern Bourbon,” said Eaves, “And what we’re creating here is unique—we’ve reimagined his vision of a distillery where you can fall in love with the spirit, but also fall in love with Kentucky.”

Castle and Key
Castle and Key

Today at Castle & Key, you’ll find an actual castle, beautifully manicured sunken gardens and a classical springhouse on the grounds. The team has worked hard to rebuild the historic estate and they haven’t disappointed. Dry gin and vodka are currently available for tasting, but the bourbon won’t be ready until 2021.

Between becoming the first female Master Distiller in Kentucky since Prohibition and crafting a highly anticipated mash bill from scratch, Eaves is leaving her thumbprint on this state in more ways than one. In a male-dominated industry that prides itself on tradition, she’s not just making bourbon…she’s making history.

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