Bourbon Industry

Old Forester Whiskey Row series gives master taster Barnes her debut

Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris and his protégée, Marianne Barnes, presented a flask of the first Old Forester Whiskey Row series.
Brown-Forman master distiller Chris Morris and his protégée, Marianne Barnes, presented a flask of the first Old Forester Whiskey Row series.

LOUISVILLE — When Brown-Forman releases the first entrant in new its Old Forester Whiskey Row Series later this month, master taster Marianne Barnes will be making her debut as well.

"This is the first bourbon blended by a woman in the modern era," said Chris Morris, Brown-Forman master distiller, of his protégé.

Barnes, who has a chemical engineering degree from the University of Louisville, trained with Morris for two years and in January was named master taster for Woodford Reserve.

She also has helped Morris select the last two Old Forester Birthday Bourbons, an annual September release much sought after by bourbon collectors and bartenders.

Last month, at Brown-Forman's distillery in Shively, Barnes and Morris shared with journalists their latest creation: Old Forester Whiskey Row 1870 Original Batch.

In addition to being the first in a new line of Old Forester labels, Original Batch will be Barnes' coming out party.

Old Forester (originally spelled Forrester) is Brown-Forman's flagship brand, dating back to founder George Garvin Brown. It's the only pre-Prohibition brand still in existence that is made by same company, Morris said.

However, the brand's longevity doesn't mean they've been selling the same whiskey for the last 144 years. Far from it, in fact. The bourbon has gone through several permutations over the years and now Brown-Forman wants to give fans a chance to taste history.

In the beginning, Brown had no distillery, Morris explained, so the original Old Forrester was batched from bourbon purchased from at least three distilleries.

To mimic that process, Barnes blended bourbon from three different warehouses.

"This took a while to develop, because we had to go out and sample every single barrel, and there are 90 per lot," Barnes said. "I've been working in the lab on this for quite some time."

"She put a lot of work into it," Morris said. "I think George Garvin Brown would be very pleased. She's done this great job."

As Barnes swirled a glass of the velvety brown bourbon, she described the nose: "Baking spice — nutmeg, cinnamon, cloves ... a little citrus." The taste is soft, with more spice character.

The Whiskey Row series, which launches in late November, will be a permanent line extension of Brown-Forman's Old Forester brand, which is seeing a resurgence in popularity. The releases will attempt to recreate the flavor profiles of by-gone bourbons.

The first one mimics the bourbon as it would have existed from the late 1800s to the mid-1920s. There will be three more releases in the Whiskey Row series, Morris said.

The 1870 Original Batch is 90 proof, with a suggested retail price of $44.99 for 750 ml, and will be in Louisville, Chicago, Denver, Nashville, New York, Seattle and San Francisco in limited release in late November.

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