Marianne Barnes | Photo by Paul Aresu, Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast
Marianne Barnes was one of Wine Enthusiast’s “Top 40 Under 40 Tastemakers” last year. | Photo by Paul Aresu, Courtesy of Wine Enthusiast

There’s no doubt you know the name Marianne Barnes by now, even if you aren’t a bourbon connoisseur. We’ve written about her many times at Insider Louisville, most recently when her soon-to-open distillery, formerly the Old Taylor Distillery in Frankfort, took on the name Castle & Key.

Barnes’ story is an inspiring one and begins with the chemistry major working her way into the esteemed master taster spot at Brown-Forman under the leadership of master taster Chris Morris. As Barnes rose through the ranks, she became an expert at nosing and tasting bourbon with Morris’ guidance. And then, just last year, she made the leap from Brown-Forman to a startup dream project pioneered by two Lexington businessmen, now known as Castle & Key.

This brave move is one of the reasons Barnes will be honored at the Multiple Sclerosis Society‘s second annual Women on the Move luncheon on Thursday, March 24. She is now the state’s first female master distiller at least since Prohibition and remains humble and excited to resurrect the aging distillery.

“I just knew I couldn’t pass up the opportunity to be a part of the team that would bring the historic Old Taylor Distillery, a pivotal part of bourbon history, back to life,” she says. “I grew up in a family of brave woman, so I truly appreciate being able to help and lend my voice for all the brave men and women.”

Barnes and her team have quite a job to do at Castle & Key, especially since the 129-year-old distillery has sat vacant since 1972. But she hopes to have a gin out as soon as the distillery is operational, and, of course, a bourbon will be put into barrels shortly thereafter as well. They’re hoping to be open later this summer (Insider got the first peak of the space last June) and have big plans for a culinary and art program.

Castle & Key in Frankfort | Photo by Sara Havens
Castle & Key in Frankfort | Photo by Sara Havens

The luncheon will feature actress and comedian Rain Pryor, the daughter of Richard Pryor, as the guest speaker. It’s open to all and takes place from 11:30 a.m.-1 p.m. on Thursday, March 24, at Hilliard Lyons, 500 W. Jefferson St. Admission is $35 and can be purchased here.

Barnes took a few minutes out of her busy day at the distillery to answer some very important questions …

What’s the most surprising thing on your Bucket List?

This question actually forced me to think about what is really on my Bucket List. The first two things to come to mind were sky diving and hiking the Appalachian Trail. For people who know me, I don’t think they would be too surprised by those, but they may be surprised to know that building a robot is another one of my Bucket List items.

The Backstreet Boys — when they were too young to drink bourbon.
The Backstreet Boys — When they were too young to drink bourbon.

What poster was on your wall in junior high?

I loved Sailor Moon in middle school as well as the Backstreet Boys (Nick especially!), so I would say I either had posters or I printed pictures and tacked those up.

If you were mayor, to whom would you give the key to the city?

I would give the key to the city to Jennifer Lawrence. Maybe a boring answer, but she’s got a long career ahead of her in Hollywood, and I hope she continues to keep people thinking about us and how they should come visit — and also visit some great distilleries while they’re here!

What are your preferred pizza toppings?

I order all the veggies and usually no cheese unless vegan cheese is available. I love pineapple, green pepper, onion, mushrooms, spinach and lots of extra red sauce!

If you could be any age for a week, what would it be?

For this I was trying to think of my favorite age I’ve ever been, but then I took it a different way. With what I know now, I think it would be fun to maybe flash forward a bit, see what the future might hold. So I would choose 50 for a week, and then come back and really relish my youth. I call myself a grandma all the time now, but really, I just work a tremendous amount (because I love it). But to get up early I have to get in bed early!

Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. married Frances Miller Johnson in 1852.
Col. E.H. Taylor Jr. married Frances Miller Johnson in 1852.

What famous person do people say you resemble the most?

I’ve gotten some strange ones, but I would say Charlize Theron is the most common one, particularly when I’m blonde. I’ll take it!

Who would you most like to be stuck with in an elevator?

Anyone who has ever existed? I would want to be stuck in an elevator with Colonel E.H. Taylor’s wife. Taylor is the man who built our distillery. He had many ups and downs in his career, but had too much of an ego to share. I would like to hear his story from her eyes. I always think you can get a true read on someone’s character and success by speaking to their loved ones. Taylor certainly made it look easy, but if there were struggles, I would want to know about them. I imagine we would have a lot to talk about, even if the elevator (which I’m sure she would be thoroughly confused by) was stuck for a whole day!

Sara Havens

Sara Havens

Sara Havens is the Culture Editor at Insider Louisville, known around town as the Bar Belle (barbelleblog.com). She's a former editor of LEO Weekly and has written for Playboy and The Alcohol Professor. Havens is the author of two books: "The Bar Belle" and "The Bar Belle Vol. 2."