Behind the evolving drinks industry is a vibrant community of pioneers who are willing to blaze their own path. After too many years of being left out of the picture, owners of Black-owned distilleries are emerging as critical players in the future of spirits.
Amidst the difficulties of the past few years, African-American tastemakers have endured unique challenges, instigating an even stronger collective mission to create products that anyone can enjoy. In one outstanding case, in the wake of George Floyd’s murder, distillers like Chris Montana of Du Nord Craft Spirits took on new roles in social advocacy. They did this through immediate relief programs and a new focus on long-term investing in entrepreneurs and business leaders of color.
As we progress towards a more equitable and inclusive community, we can’t help but admire the milestones achieved in this short list—from Marc Farrell’s elevation of rum’s complicated history to Vanessa Braxton’s recognition as New York’s first African American woman master distiller.
This impact is not limited to the world of spirits. Award-winning bottles produced by black-owned wine labels and destination-worthy black-owned breweries continue to reach new heights in the drinks industry, and our list of black-owned food & beverage businesses highlights some of the best in the food scene.
As these lists continue to expand, here we spotlight some of the most influential Black distillers across the U.S. whose stories drive purpose behind every pour.
Co-owned by Nayana Ferguson, Don Ferguson and Mike Rowoldt, this Michigan-based label blends Highland and Lowland Agave to create their twice-distilled and award-winning Tequila. Their collection of hummingbird-adorned bottles also features coconut-lime and blood-orange expressions that boast smooth and flavorful finishes.
Black Momma Vodka
The line-up of vodkas from Black Momma Vodka, helmed by CEO/President Vanessa Braxton (sister-in-law to singer/songwriter Toni Braxton), includes a number of tea-flavored varieties, including Green Tea, Sour Sop Tea and Chai Tea. The Brooklyn-born entrepreneur was awarded NY State Proclamation as the First African American woman master distiller and master blender in the U.S., all while growing the Black Momma Tea & Café franchise.
Owned by brothers Victor, Christian and Bryson Yarbrough, this newcomer to the West End neighborhood of Louisville specializes in small-batch Bourbon. The trio designed their sleek bottles to embody pieces of their Kentucky culture, involving basketball, boxing, horse racing and (of course) bourbon.
LA-born entrepreneur Ricky Miller III creates a 100% organic silky vodka with wheat from Italy’s Piedmont region filtered through rare black Carbonado diamonds. In addition to its unique production process, Carbonadi Vodka also landed a spot on Wine Enthusiast’s list of the Top 100 Spirits of 2019.
Du Nord Craft Spirits
This Minneapolis distillery is centered on its mission to do good in the community by collectively raising a glass of any of its offerings, which include vodka, gin, whiskey, and apple and coffee liqueurs. In response to the murder of George Floyd, founders Chris and Shanelle Montana turned their initial fundraiser into the non-profit Du Nord Foundation, which acts as a long-term investment to fight inequity.
Recognized by the state of Kentucky as the first African American to make Kentucky bourbon since slavery, this label owned by Sean Edwards believes that there is no “right” way to enjoy bourbon. From cocktails to sipping straight, the distillery offers a premium range of bourbon and other whiskeys.
Loft + Bear
From its beginnings in 2012, this California distillery has since expanded into an 8,600-square-foot distillery in the heart of South Los Angeles. Founded by Wine Enthusiast 40 Under 40 Honoree Paul Ryan Elliot, Loft + Bear features artisanal vodkas made with organic wheat and pure California spring water.
This distillery created a spirit of its own in the belief that sipping is the new shot. Avila is an agave spirit from Morelos that drinks a lot like Tequila. (We sampled the robust barrel-aged reposado expression). Last month, actor and producer Justin Hartley joined as a partner to CEO/founder Micah McFarlane. Together, they continue to share the pure expression of Agave in spirits.
Ten to One Rum
Determined to depart rum to a new era from its complicated history, Trinidad-born Marc Farrell created bottlings that are what he calls “elevated by not exclusive.” The white and dark rum offerings are made with a blend of rums sourced from various Caribbean islands, integrating a cultural narrative into every bottle.
Under the leadership of Fawn Weaver, this Tennessee whiskey brand takes its name from Nathan “Nearest” Green, an enslaved man who distilled whiskey in the 1850s and taught young Jack Daniel the craft. Deeply connected to its mission of supporting underfunded communities, Uncle Nearest is holding a fundraiser to raise $1 million for historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs). Show your support by participating in the cause, or sipping the spicy, well-structured 1856 bottling.
This story was updated on January 30, 2023.