First woman directly connected with a distillery to receive industry’s highest honor
BARDSTOWN, Ky. (Sept. 11, 2014) – Margie Mattingly Samuels, who created the name, design and iconic red wax of her family’s Maker’s Mark distillery, will be inducted next week as the newest member of the Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.
Samuels is the first woman directly connected with a distillery to receive the bourbon industry’s highest honor, and only the fifth woman ever to be inducted, the Kentucky Distillers’ Association and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival announced today.
The ceremony will be held Wednesday, Sept. 17, at the Bardstown Country Club in conjunction with the 23rd annual Kentucky Bourbon Festival, which runs from Sept. 16-Sept. 21 in Bardstown.
Rob Samuels, the distillery’s Chief Operating Officer, said he is delighted his grandmother is receiving the honor for her role as a bourbon pioneer and visionary.
“Responsible for creating two of Kentucky’s most widely known symbols–the Maker’s Mark name and the bottle’s red wax–Marge made profound contributions to the Bourbon industry that live on 60 years later,” Samuels said. “I am excited to continue upholding the standards she set forth for years to come.”
Samuels was born into Kentucky’s signature bourbon business.
Her father’s family co-founded the Mattingly & Moore Distillery in Bardstown in the mid-1800s. She graduated at the top of her class from the Louisville Girls High School and the University of Louisville with a chemistry degree in 1933.
At U of L, she met Bill Samuels, Sr., a sixth-generation Kentucky distiller whose family owned and operated the T.W. Samuels Distillery. They married in 1937 and set up residence at the old Samuels home place on Whiskey Row in Bardstown, next door to Colonel Jim and Mary Beam.
In 1953, Samuels collaborated with her husband on a new kind of bourbon using wheat in place of rye as the secondary grain. She baked bread with a variety of alternative grains, and Bill blind tasted the bread, and then made his decision for red winter wheat.
She insisted that all of the old buildings at the Victorian-era distillery they purchased in Loretto not only be preserved but faithfully restored, even though money was scarce. But, by far her most famous and invaluable contributions came in the naming and marketing of the new whisky.
A noted collector of fine English pewter, Mrs. Samuels knew the “maker’s mark” was a symbol of handcrafted quality. She created the unique red wax that drips down the neck of the bottle she designed, as well as the label and lettering that’s now an internationally recognized type style.
And, she raised three children–Bill Jr., Nancy and Leslie–two of whom joined the family business. Bill Samuels Jr., was president from 1975 until his retirement in 2011, and Leslie launched the Maker’s Mark visitor’s program in 1967. Samuels died in 1985.
Fred Minnick, award-wining author of “Whiskey Women: The Untold Truth About How Women Saved Bourbon, Scotch & Irish Whiskey,” said Mrs. Samuels is “arguably the most underrated Bourbon figure of all-time.”
“The fact that she is the only person inducted this year is fitting because she deserves to have the entire spotlight on her,” he said. “She absolutely changed the spirits industry. Her feminine bottle design and dripping wax was the beautiful red dress in a sea of boring gray dresses.”
The Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame was created in 2001 by the KDA and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival to recognize individuals and organizations that have made a significant impact on Bourbon’s stature, growth and awareness.
Candidates may be nominated each year by the KDA, its member distilleries and the Kentucky Bourbon Festival. Nominees are then sent to the KDA Board of Directors for selection.
Minnick also hailed Samuels’ induction as symbolic of the industry’s focus on women as leaders, consumers and pioneers.