Marianne Eaves likes to stay busy. Since she left Castle & Key Distillery — where she was widely regarded as the first American woman to hold the title of Master Distiller — Eaves has consulted and blended for a wide range of distilleries and non-distilling producers. Indeed, her Eaves Blind series has seen her partner with and create blends for eight (and counting) distilleries across the United States. And amidst that busy schedule, she’s also released Forbidden, her own brand of contract-distilled bourbon using non-traditional grains and a low-temperature fermentation process.
Drinkhacker recently caught up with Eaves to talk about balancing her work with Forbidden and other brands. We also discussed modern contract distilling — both limits and benefits thereof — as well as whether or not American producers are heading toward another “bourbon glut” of overproduction.
Note: This interview has been edited for readability.
Drinkhacker: Tell me a little bit about working with Bardstown Bourbon Company. Why pick them as your contract distillation partner?
Marianne Eaves: The biggest factor for me was that they were going to allow me to vary the process however I felt best for the product that I wanted to make. At most contract production facilities, they either have a menu of recipes that they make and you just pick one off the menu, or maybe you can vary your grain percentages, but they still make it in their process with their yeast strains and the way they think is best. But with Bardstown, they see me as their master distiller while I’m there. So anything that I want to change, anything that I want to try, they’re excited about it.
Drinkhacker: What do you think will change about contract distillation as that market gets more competitive in the next five to 10 years?
Marianne Eaves: That’s a hard question. I think that there’s a lot of bourbon that’s being produced by big investment holding groups and that sort of thing. There’s a tremendous amount of capacity and volume that’s being taken by groups like that, that don’t necessarily have a brand or any desire to create a brand. But I’ll say we’re not going to run out of bourbon. I think there’s a huge opportunity still over in the international market. There may actually be an overproduction, which I think a lot of folks are getting a little concerned about that as well.
Drinkhacker: You mentioned that we’re not going to run out of bourbon. In fact, we might have the opposite problem. Do you think we’re heading for a repeat of the eighties and nineties glut era?
Marianne Eaves: It’s possible. I think that where we are, the avenues of distribution in the U.S. now, folks aren’t as critical of brands that are sourced as long as they’re transparent, as long as they’re thoughtfully blending. It’s a little bit of a different scenario. I think that brands will still be prioritized, the ones that that produce product themselves, by distributors and that sort of thing. There are other ways for brands to get visibility through social media and then sell their products online.
Drinkhacker: Some things that Forbidden is doing to stand apart include a proprietary mash bill, different types of grain, the low temperature fermentation. What are some other things, if any, that you are excited to experiment with as market differentiators?
Marianne Eaves: I think the narrative and the way that we’re speaking about bourbon now, coming out into the industry as a consultant and then as the Forbidden was aging, just taking a look at what’s going on out there. It’s still a lot of folks that are releasing whiskey using some contrived kind of story about their family’s history that may or may not have actually been connected with bourbon. I think it’s striving to innovate and really just be who we are, and that’s people who are passionate about quality first. There is an appreciation for history, but it’s also about looking into the future.
Drinkhacker: Are you still doing consultation work?
Marianne Eaves: Yeah, I am still working on other projects. I’m still working with Sweetens Cove. I’ve done a few releases for the internet gamer Doctor Disrespect, his brand is called Black Steel. I am working on a project to do a distillery for a rum brand in Florida, which is really exciting for me. I blended a release for them. I’m also in progress with two other female partners in Montana, Big Sky, building a distillery. We’re going to do foraged gin, American single malt, rye whiskey, and bourbon. I’m really excited about that.
Drinkhacker: Is there anyone in the industry you’d like to collaborate with in any capacity but haven’t had the chance to yet?
Marianne Eaves: There are lots of people! Lots of distilleries, lots of brands. I created a program called Eaves Blind that gave me the opportunity to collaborate with eight different distilleries. And I want to keep it going.