Harlen was born in Mount Sterling Kentucky in 1969, the older of two boys. He lived in both Hazard and Mt. Sterling, KY before his family moved to Northern, KY in 1976.
Harlen attended Northern Kentucky University, where he earned a Bachelor of Science degree in Chemistry, with a minor in math. After graduation from NKU Harlen moved to Central Kentucky, where he worked full time at a chemical company and attended the University of Kentucky. While earning his Bachelor of Science Degree in Chemical Engineering, Harlen received his formal training in distillation and separation techniques.
In 1995 Harlen came to Frankfort to work as Distillery Supervisor. At Buffalo Trace, he has applied much of his formal education and received intensive "on-the-job" training. Harlen was soon assigned additional responsibilities in the powerhouse/boiler room, maintenance and warehousing, and was promoted to Distillery Manager in 2000.
Harlen became Master Distiller in 2005. He has worked in all aspects of bourbon production, from incoming raw materials to barrel aging. While at the distillery he has driven many initiatives including solidifying standards and consistency, quality focus and efficiency gains. In 2010 Harlen was promoted to lead all the distilling and aging operations for Buffalo Trace Distillery that include Frankfort, Bardstown, Owensboro and Fredericksburg, Virginia. He looks forward to many more years of carrying on the tradition of producing some of the world's finest bourbons.
Harlen lives in Frankfort with his wife Heather and two boys, Luke and Jett.