Can a Master Blender save a distillery from itself? If the master blender has proved themselves for years and the distillery will listen to course correction, then yes. What is a master blender you ask? A master blender is an individual who develops specific blended spirits using a combination of spirits with different characteristics. That person can also be the Master Distiller in some instances.
As the name suggests, the blender marries different barrels into something magical and is responsible for making sure the product remains consistent across different batches, while the distiller is either directly responsible for the mashing and distilling of spirits or simply holds the title as the administrative and marketing figurehead of the company.
While picking out a single barrel that is tasty can be easy, making 100 barrels taste the exact same can be nightmare. Even harder when you might be just blending 10 or less. One bad barrel can ruin an entire batch as Ashley Barnes explained to me. Ashley is the Master Blender and a co-founder of The Spirits Group.
The Spirits Group is consulting firm, focused on whiskey related business strategy and operations, quality control and distillery engineering. Ashley specializes in warehouse profiling, flavor profile projections, blending, product development and quality control. So how did she get to where she did today?
It definitely wasn’t easy and took many years to get where she is today. She has worked at two of the most respected distilleries in America, Four Roses as the Assistant Quality Control Manager and at Buffalo Trace Distillery as a Quality Control Technician. What’s all that mean, well for a good O’l boy like me, it means she has a refined nose and palate. But wait there is more, she also holds a B.S. in Biology with a minor in Chemistry from Eastern Kentucky University, so she might just know her way around a lab.
Now what exactly was a Master Blender like Ashley doing hanging out at Jeptha Bend Farm? Well, I’m glad you asked. My good friends from Leiper’s Fork Distillery (Lee, April and Matt, aka The Forest Gump of Whiskey) had to drop off some samples to Ashley in Kentucky for a new release, so why not make an episode about the art of blending right.
So we sat around my living room sipping on some of their Straight Rye Whiskey that Ashley had worked on and also some young Tennessee whiskey that Ashley intends to blend after it spends a couple more years in a barrel. You have to stop by the distillery to pick up a bottle of the Rye which is some very delightful whiskey and tell them Big Chief sent you. That won’t get you a discount, but it will get you a big Tennessee smile. I must say I have had some great experiences over the past year with the podcast but this ranked right at the top.
So it’s time for you to grab that glass, fill it with some rye whiskey and listen as I take a trip down The Bourbon Road with The Master Blender Ashley Barnes and the Leiper’s Fork Distillery crew in tow. Cheers
Mike (Big Chief)