Exclusive: Jackie Zykan Starting New Brand

Jackie Zykan Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Sage Delaney
Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Sage Delaney

After her departure from Brown-Forman in June, former Old Forester Master Taster Jackie Zykan has announced her next product: Hidden Barn.

Hidden Barn Whiskey will be an ongoing series of limited releases from small stocks of liquid, each blended by Zykan under collaboration with three other partners.

The self-proclaimed “black sheep” is now a co-owner with three other business partners. Hidden Barn is “smaller, so much smaller,” Zykan points out. “I mean, I’m going from a global giant multi-billion dollar company to a team of four people.”

It’s an unconventional group of people for someone who’s been in “corporate” distilling for many years. Along with Nate Winegar and Matt Dankner from Denver’s 5280 Whiskey Society, Zykan is joining forces with Royce Neeley of Neeley Family Distillery in Sparta, Kentucky.

Matt Winegar, Jackie Zykan, Royce Neeley, and Matt Danker. Courtesy Hidden Barn Kentucky Straight Bourbon Whiskey, Sage Delaney

Zykan’s new partnership with Neeley doesn’t just represent a massive shift in terms of scale (the Neeley family has been distilling for nearly a dozen generations, but the legal entity is just a few years old) but it also represents a doubling down on Zkyan’s commitment to the still-underappreciated art of blending. “I don’t wanna be a master distiller,” Zykan explained in an interview with The Bourbon Review. “I don’t distill, and I don’t want to be a master distiller that doesn’t distill. I like to play with it post-maturation. I like to take the pieces and tell a story with them. I like to paint a picture with them.”

The art will come as the artist finishes her compositions; Zykan said that the market will be seeing the product as she readies great whiskeys, not on a timetable. That’s especially important when you’re batching with smaller stocks of whiskey.

Zykan is excited to be working with smaller supplies—and says going from 200 barrels per batch to half a dozen or so makes for more interesting products, with more distinct flavors.

A couple of blends are already in the pipeline, but Zykan is quick to caution that the scale of these releases will be on the smaller side. Hidden Barn will initially release in just Colorado and Kentucky, with plans to scale up in the near future.

Aside from the smaller volume, though, Hidden Barn has no limitations. For the time being, Zykan is working with Neeley liquid but says that inter-distillery blends aren’t off the table. What we won’t be seeing anytime soon, however, are any “core” products—Zykan has no plans to make a regularly-occurring Hidden Barn Bourbon.

Above all, Zykan’s new brand (and the liquid in its bottles) will be about the exploration of flavor, the quirks of a sizeable stable of diverse barrels, and seeing what comes from diving into experimentation, head first and unrestrained. It’s a necessary next step for a talent that has already brought incredible bottles to market but has plenty more room to rise.

“I am a person that needs space to grow,” Zykan says. “I don’t do so well in a greenhouse, right? Like I need like a giant pasture. And if there’s a fence, I’ll find a way to climb it.”

Clay is Editor at Large of The Bourbon Review. He has written about whiskey, food, drink, and culture for Esquire, Playboy, Men's Journal, Popular Science, Southern Living, Maxim, among others.