Female master distiller likes to tackle the forbidden

Marianne Eaves is Kentucky's first female master distiller since Prohibition. Her bourbon, dubbed Forbidden, debuted in mid-May. Courtesy of Forbidden Bourbon

Credit: Handout

Credit: Handout

Marianne Eaves is Kentucky's first female master distiller since Prohibition. Her bourbon, dubbed Forbidden, debuted in mid-May. Courtesy of Forbidden Bourbon

“There is a charm about the forbidden that makes it unspeakably desirable.” Attributed to Mark Twain, that quote just as easily could have come from whiskey maker Marianne Eaves.

No stranger to uncharted territory, Eaves, Kentucky’s first female master distiller since Prohibition, recently released a bourbon that aptly is called Forbidden.

The first bottle release of Forbidden is a small, hand-blended batch of 5-year-old bourbon (95.2 proof, 47.6 alcohol by volume), offered initially in Georgia, Kentucky, South Carolina and Tennessee.

Getting to this stage was a 10-year journey for Eaves, who had total control over the process. “The name is a reference to being a woman in whiskey, and how it wasn’t possible for us,” she said. “It was forbidden for a long time, and even bourbon itself was forbidden through Prohibition.”

Eaves pursued a degree in chemical engineering at the University of Louisville. From an internship, she rose to master taster at the Brown-Forman beverage company, then to master distiller at Castle & Key. Most recently, she helped create Sweetens Cove Bourbon as master blender.

“Marianne’s preoccupation with achieving such a high level of work means she doesn’t follow the usual script,” said Daniel Rickenmann, one of the Forever brand’s four South Carolina-based partners. Beaming ear to ear, he told the crowd at a release event in Charleston that she defied expectations.

Forbidden is a small-batch, hand-blended bourbon bottled at 95.2 proof from a mash bill of white corn, white winter wheat and malted barley. Courtesy of Forbidden Bourbon

Credit: Handout

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Credit: Handout

Eaves also was beaming as she talked about the bourbon’s mash bill. “When the first truckload of white wheat arrived at the distillery, it was like sun rays came down from the sky,” she said. “It was the most beautiful truckload of grain I had seen in my entire life.”

Forbidden is billed as the only bourbon to feature “cuisine-quality” white corn and white winter wheat. While 80% of yellow corn (the traditional corn for making bourbon) is grown for nonhuman consumption, the opposite holds true for white corn. It’s grown for people to eat, and therefore is more expensive. The quality of the grains used, including a high percentage of malted barley, makes a significant difference in the flavor of the bourbon, Eaves said.

As we talked over coffee, she pulled out numerous samples from her bag, including bourbon distilled when Eaves was with Castle & Key and barrels of Forbidden distilled at Bardstown Bourbon Co. Eaves has 500 samples in her office, “each with a different character,” she said. The self-described engineering nerd tried different variables, such as charred barrels; nontraditional, low-temperature fermentation; and barrel proofs to capture what she calls “the essence of an elegant and mature bourbon.”

Forbidden has aromas of dessert-like vanilla, much like frosting, along with delicate floral whiffs. On the palate, it brings spice from the aging process, citrus oil, creaminess, fruit characteristics from yeast strains carefully chosen by Eaves and sweet caramel-like notes from the grains. Sweetness lingers at the finish, along with spices and oak.

Even the glass bottle is out of the ordinary. The shape has eight facets, like a star, and the sharp-looking edges seem as if they might be difficult to grasp. “You don’t know how to approach it,” Eaves said. “It feels a little forbidden.”

Presale orders of Forbidden ($129) will ship in June. Eaves will continue to release unique single barrels every year.

Forbidden. drinkforbidden.com

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