Black-Owned Whisky Distilleries & Companies
June 4, 2020 –––––– Whisky Advocate
That doesn't mean there aren't any Black-owned whisky makers, though. They're out there, and they want to share their whisky with you! If you're looking for a Black-owned whisky distillery or company to support, check out the folks below.
We plan to continuously update this list as we learn of Black-owned whisky producers. Are we missing someone? Send us an email.
Shadow Ridge Spirits Co.
Sean Hallman is a former Navy surface warfare officer, and currently a federal civilian employee for the department of Navy. An interest in homebrewing led Hallman to explore the world of distilling, and now he and his wife, Lisa Ireland, run Shadow Ridge Spirits Co., which is registered under Oceanside Distillers in Oceanside, California. The distillery makes small-batch whiskeys, often using specialty malts, including bourbon, rye, and American single malt in both peated and unpeated varieties. Shadow Ridge also offers both light and dark rums, and plans are in the works to produce gin. Bottles can be purchased in the Oceanside Distillers tasting room, at select California retailers, and online.
Rising Sun Distillery
One of just two certified organic distilleries in Colorado, Rising Sun was founded in 2013 by Sol Richardson and his wife, Dawn Nudell Richardson. The distillery's line of spirits includes bourbon and rye, along with gin, vodka, and a host of creative liqueurs. While Rising Sun's flagship location and production distillery are located in Denver's Lincoln Park neighborhood, the company is also planning to open a tasting room in ski haven Frisco, Colorado later in 2020.
Painted Stave Distilling
Ron Gomes was an assistant professor of orthopedics at Penn State University when he teamed up with Michael Rasmussen to open Delaware's first standalone distillery since Prohibition. Located in an old movie theater next door to a church in downtown Smyrna, Painted Stave opened in 2013. The distillery makes Diamond state bourbon, rye, corn, and pot still whiskey—inspired by Ireland's single pot still style—and other spirits, including vodka, gin, and Double TroubleD, a hop-flavored whiskey distilled from Fordham & Dominion Brewing's Double D Imperial IPA. While its spirits are sold in Delaware and Maryland and online in Illinois, Painted Stave also has a cocktail garden for those who want to sit and sip on-site.
Kweillin Gordon, Che' Bailey, Sheldon Johns-Harris, and James Roach were inspired by "Black Wall Street" to create Greenwood Whiskey, which is made at Citrus Distillers in Florida and headquartered in Atlanta. The Tulsa, Oklahoma community of Greenwood was home to hundreds of African American-owned businesses in the early 20th century. Greenwood Whiskey honors "the largest concentration in the U.S. during a time when African Americans didn't have many rights or resources...the visionary entrepreneurs that came before us." Currently in production, Greenwood Whiskey will soon launch in Georgia, Florida, and New York, with expansion planned. A portion of sales will support charitable causes that foster entrepreneurship among young, diverse people.
Launched in February 2020 by Posh Beverage Company LLC, which was founded by CEO Jonathan Gillard, COO Monyea Shell, and VP of marketing Larue Livingston, Majesty is a 40% ABV bourbon distilled in Georgia and aged for 30 months. Though the brand launched recently, Gillard says they are already working on more iterations of Majesty. “We are very intentional in the way we conduct business, and we proactively look for opportunities to collaborate with other Black businesses and readily accept the responsibility to engage our own community and provide opportunity where feasible and appropriate,” he adds.
Wild Creek Distillery
Founded in 2016 by Lee Stewart and Greg West, Wild Creek Distillery makes two types of moonshine: Georgia County and the flavored Georgia Peach Cobbler. Both are made with locally sourced grains and aged for 24 hours in oak barrels. Stewart, who serves as master distiller, was inspired by his grandfather, who made illicit moonshine in a tee-pee style hut in the southern Georgia woods. West oversees sales and marketing of the moonshines, which are currently available in Georgia.
Brough Brothers Distillery
Co-founders and brothers Victor, Christian, and Bryson Yarbrough grew up in Louisville's West End, and they've returned to open Kentucky's first Black-owned whiskey distillery, currently being built out. The bourbon itself, however, already exists; Victor lived for a decade in the UK, and distributed the brand there first. Now the plan is to make the whiskey themselves while bringing economic opportunities to the community. The brothers' faces adorn the bottle, looking wry, friendly, even a little mischievous, and framed by the Louisville skyline and symbols of the city's rich culture. Brough Brothers bourbon is currently available in Kentucky, with expansion to other states ongoing.
Co-founders and husband and wife Sean and Tia Edwards are helming the new whiskey brand Fresh Bourbon, which they began developing in 2017. In early 2020, the couple announced plans to construct a 34,000-square-foot distillery in Lexington, Kentucky, which will serve as the production site for Fresh Bourbon's future line of bourbon and other whiskeys. In a prepared statement from February 2020, Sean Edwards said that Fresh Bourbon chose not to source whiskey in the meantime, and that it would have “the first African American master distiller in Kentucky since slavery.”
Saint Cloud Kentucky Bourbon
Winemaker Ray Walker, who once blended Burgundy grand crus, was inspired by family history to start the Saint Cloud brand. He sources Kentucky straight bourbon to bottle as single barrels and in "micro-scale" batches, always at barrel proof. With extremely limited bottle counts, Saint Cloud's boutique approach is reflected in its sleek, Instagram-ready packaging, some of which shimmers with bold metallic hues. The company's Hypershift Works Division bottlings are so allocated that buyers must be invited to purchase one.
18th Street Distillery
When Drew Fox founded 18th Street Distillery in Hammond, Indiana in 2017, he was breathing new life into a historic center of whiskey making—over a century earlier, Hammond had been home to the country's second-largest distillery. As the founder of 18th Street Brewery, Fox was already experienced in alcohol production, and adding the distillery on-site with one of the brewery's locations provided natural synergies, as much of the ingredients and process could overlap. "We knew distilling was a similarity to what we were doing in brewing," Fox said in a 2018 video from Moonshine University. Currently available in Indiana and Illinois, 18th Street's lineup includes bourbon and rye, as well as rum, gin, vodka, and rye moonshine; the distillery also released a single malt whiskey in 2019 and has more aging. For those who make an in-person visit, 18th Street has a spacious tasting lounge where it offers neat pours, cocktails, beer, and food.
Down South Beverage Co.
Founded and owned by college friends Kelvin Bratcher, Gary Duncan, Ralph Frasier, Gail Frasier Cox, Ponce DeLeon Tidwell, Jr., and Charles “Shon” Yancey, Down South produces the Still Moon line of corn whiskeys and flavored moonshines. Still Moon Special Reserve is a 100% corn whiskey, unaged, while Still Moon Rare Reserve is a 100% corn and aged for 5 years in used barrels. They're joined by flavored moonshines including Apple Pie and White Peach. The sourced moonshines and whiskeys are created with recipes from the founders' North Carolina roots and bottled in Bardstown, Kentucky, while the company is headquartered in Indiana.
Rams & Parrots
This 100% corn whiskey is backed by childhood friends Rodney Dotson, William Jennings III, and Reggie Jones, along with distiller Jonathan Ortiz. The name refers to the mascots of the friends' middle school, Roland Park (the Rams), and high school, Baltimore Polytechnic (the parrots), as well as symbolizing unity and social connection. Those values are key to Rams & Parrots' origins as well; the bourbon was inspired by a Dotson family tradition of gathering around a special homemade punch.
Du Nord Craft Spirits
Attorney and Minneapolis native Chris Montana founded Du Nord Craft Spirits with his wife, Shanelle, in 2013, and he now serves as not only the founder, but also the CEO and head distiller. Du Nord offers several spirits including gin, vodka, liqueurs, and Mixed Blood blended whiskey. On its website, Du Nord states that it is “committed to diversifying the craft alcohol community and actively recruits the underrepresented communities of women and racial minorities to join the Du Nord family.” Du Nord was damaged by fires in May 2020, the result of civil unrest after the death of George Floyd by Minneapolis police, and the craft spirits community quickly rallied to support the distillery's recovery. Donations grew so large that the Montanas plan to redistribute the funds to support other Black and Brown-owned businesses in Minneapolis that were also damaged by the riots.
One of the few whiskeys named for a woman—and an African American—Birdie Brown Plain Hooch is distilled from oats, wheat, and barley. Namesake Birdie Brown was a homesteader in Montana in the early 1900s, living on the frontier with just a cat for companionship; when Prohibition set in, she began selling homemade moonshine illicitly. She passed away in 1933, and her homestead was abandoned but still stands today. Company founder Alan Henderson works with Dry Hills Distillery in Bozeman, Montana to create the unaged whiskey, which is for sale in Indiana and online through ReserveBar. (There's another whiskey named for Brown made by Texas' Saint Liberty Whiskey which uses a variation on the spelling of her first name; the two brands are not affiliated.)
Chaunci King founded Royalty Spirits in Portland, Oregon in 2013. Four years later, the company debuted Rex rye whiskey, a 45% ABV rye aged in charred bordeaux- and burgundy-style wine barrels from the Pacific Northwest. Like its parent company, this whiskey hails from Oregon. Royalty Spirits has an online store that features several of the company's products, including Rex, Miru Classic vodka and Miru Pear vodka, and CBD mixers.
Cylk Blended Tennessee Whiskey
Co-owned by actor Cylk Cozart—a native of Knoxville—and sports and business consultant Rick Clark, this whiskey is made at Old Tennessee Distilling Co. in Kodak, Tennessee. It's a blend of 4 year old bourbon and whiskey distilled with corn grown in the state's eastern foothills. While the whiskey debuted in test markets in 2019, there are plans for a full launch in October 2020. The business partners also have a beer, Country Roads, providing an easy pairing for a Boilermaker.
Founded in 2018 by Jason Ridgel, Guidance whiskey is distilled in Iowa from corn, rye, and malted barley, while the company's home is in Nashville, Tennessee. Since the brand was born, Ridgel has been building the Guidance family, which includes the lead singer of the soul, funk, and R&B group the Bar-Kays, Larry “The Captain” Dodson, who serves as Guidance Whiskey spokesperson and the face of the brand. This American whiskey is for sale in stores in Tennessee and Georgia, and can be ordered online.
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Named for the enslaved man, Nathan "Nearest" Green, who taught Jack Daniel how to distill, this whiskey brand was started in 2017 by author and real estate investor Fawn Weaver. The company currently bottles sourced whiskey while also contract-distilling new spirit; its distillery, located in Shelbyville, Tennessee, is open to visitors (when not restricted by coronavirus-related social distancing), though parts of the multi-attraction facility are still under construction, with on-site whiskey production set to begin soon.
In 2015, chef Edwin Wright was inspired by the smoky flavors of barbecue to create spirits infused with hickory, maple, apple, and cherrywood smoke, which he offered to guests. His smoke-infused whiskey was so popular that he teamed up with chief engineer Ray Robinson to produce and sell it. The smoking process is proprietary, but Wright says it gives the whiskey a smooth texture. The company currently offers only whiskey, for sale in the Washington, D.C. area, but has plans to add infused rum and tequila in the future.
Reporting by Susannah Skiver Barton and Sam Stone