Marianne Eaves’s Whiskey Dreams

The Kentucky master distiller charts a new course in the world of bourbon


Eaves amid barrels of Forbidden aging in a rickhouse at Bardstown Bourbon Company in Kentucky.

Age: 36

Home base: Lexington, Kentucky

Known for: Marianne Eaves became Kentucky’s first female bourbon master distiller since Prohibition, leading the revival of the historic Old Taylor Distillery to launch Castle & Key. Now an independent spirits consultant, she and a group of South Carolina partners are releasing Forbidden, the first bourbon Eaves has controlled from grain to glass.

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One of the boys: “I kept finding myself in places where women usually weren’t. I studied auto shop in high school, then studied chemical engineering before doing research and tasting at [spirits and wine company] Brown-Forman. Then came the career-changing opportunity to be master distiller at Castle & Key.”

Stepping out: “I felt I had more to offer, so I became a consultant and now work with many different brands. Some thought that was crazy, but I’ve always been an outlier.”

Low to high: “My first bourbon memory isn’t great. A date at a New Year’s Eve party talked me into a big shot of bottom-shelf bourbon. It left a bad taste in my mouth, and I had to work through that.”

Leading the charge: “The landscape looked so different at the beginning of my career. Now there are women all over opening distilleries and creating these amazing female teams. I hope being a visible figure at this level has inspired some of them. Recently, my youngest daughter has accompanied me to blending classes, strapped to me in an Ergobaby. That dynamic is pretty cool in spaces where there hadn’t been women.”

Tasting notes: “I made Forbidden from scratch, and it’s the only bourbon to feature white corn and white winter wheat. It’s also got a high percentage of barley. The ingredients were inspired by this project’s South Carolina partners but also my desire to plant my flag with this bourbon. It’s a wheated bourbon, so soft but not wimpy; it’s got real backbone with various barrel treatments to add spice and depth.”

Name that bourbon: “The name’s a little descriptive of my career and a nod to the fact that women were essentially forbidden to work as master distillers per a Kentucky law until the early 1970s.”

Whiskey and beyond: “There’s a rum I’ve blended and a smoky brandy I’m making with another woman in Napa. And I have bigger dreams; world domination is not an understatement.”