BARDSTOWN, Ky. – Margie Mattingly Samuels, who created the distinctive name, cutting-edge design and iconic red wax of her family’s Maker’s Mark distillery, will be inducted next week as the newest member of the prestigious Kentucky Bourbon Hall of Fame.
Mrs. 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 through Sept. 21 in Bardstown.
“This is a historic moment that is long overdue,” KDA President Eric Gregory said. “Mrs. Samuels was one of many women in our industry to be directly involved with creating and growing a legendary Bourbon brand.
“We are proud to honor Mrs. Samuels, and we applaud her monumental contributions that forever changed the way Bourbon is made and marketed. She transformed our industry, and we are eternally grateful.”
Her son, Bill Samuels, Jr., said, “As Associate Editor of my high school yearbook, I’ll never forget that day when I came home from school and all my things were sitting outside because Mom had thrown out my photo lab to set up a wax test kitchen in the basement.
“I was so aggravated with her in that moment, but looking back 60 years, I know that what she accomplished compared to what I might have is just monumental,” said Samuels, Chairman Emeritus of Maker’s Mark.
Rob Samuels, the distillery’s Chief Operating Officer, said he is delighted that his grandmother is receiving this distinguished 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. I am excited to continue upholding the standards she set forth for years to come.”
Mrs. 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, Mrs. 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 blindtasted 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. Mrs. 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 Mrs. Samuels’ induction as symbolic of the industry’s focus on women as leaders, consumers and pioneers.
“Women no longer face societal boundaries and it’s accepted for major whiskey companies to give them more public roles,” he said. “Today, women run the marketing departments, bottling lines, tasting rooms and are the bosses of nearly all the Master Distillers.
“Women are the future of Bourbon, and the future looks extremely bright.”
Peggy Noe Stevens, founder of the Bourbon Women education and networking group, said Mrs. Samuels represents the contributions of countless industry women who paved the way for female leaders and consumers.
“Cheers to Marge Samuels for bringing one of the most iconic Bourbon brands to life,” she said. “May we mark this day, as well, for all pioneer women who have significantly contributed to the industry over the years.
“I am confident she was a tough and determined woman, as she had to raise Bill Samuels!”
For more information, contact Eric Gregory at (502) 875-9351
To learn more about the women who saved the whiskey business, join Minnick for “Whiskey and Women” at the Spalding Hall – Chapel, 114 N. Fifth St., from 3 p.m. to 5 pm., after Wednesday’s induction.
Tickets may be purchased online at http://www.kybourbonfestival.com or by calling 800.638.4877 ext. 4.