This February, in honor of Black History Month, we celebrate the pioneer African American owned distilleries who have helped shape the whiskey world as we know it. Our list is a mere snapshot into some of the top-quality offerings out there. While we know we are not in a position to detail first-hand accounts of the various adversities that have affected the Black community, we aim to use our platform to support and spotlight Black-owned spirits brands doing incredible work in the whiskey world.
A true whiskey Icon, Nathan Green, most commonly known as “Uncle Nearest”, is one of the first known African American master distillers and considered the true founding father of Tennessee Whiskey as we know it today. Recognized for his unique technique of charcoal filtering, Uncle Nearest was sought out by a young boy named Jasper “Jack” Daniels in the early 1850’s while enslaved at a local distillery, in hopes to learn his distillation methods. Five years later with the 13th amendment enacted, Daniels purchased his own distillery and recruited Uncle Nearest as his first master distiller, who would later be attributed with creating one of the top selling whiskey brands in America.
Fast forward to 2017, author, entrepreneur (now CEO) Fawn Weaver, while researching Uncle Nearest’s life for a book, decided to partner with Nearest’s family to create their own whiskey and two years later, their own distillery. Uncle Nearest is a brand of firsts, making history as the first spirit to commemorate an African American, the first major African American spirit brand, and with another first – they have named Victoria Eady Butler, great great granddaughter of Nearest Green, as the first African American blender. Since its inception, Uncle Nearest has become the fastest growing independent premium whiskey brand in American US history and continues to win multiple awards and accolades in the spirit industry including Gold medals from Whiskies of the World Awards.
Painted Stave Distilling is considered Delaware’s first stand-alone small-batch distillery since Prohibition. They stand out by crafting premium spirits in small batches, utilizing the best ingredients sourced from regional Northeast farms, and by blending traditions of the past with today’s creativity and state-of-the-art technology. While they’ve produced a variety of different spirits since the distillery’s inception in 2011, it comes as no surprise that we are huge fans of their whiskies in particular. Their straight rye and straight bourbon are both delectable, easy sips, but it’s their Double TroubleD limited release that has caught our eye. Distilled from Imperial IPA beer from Dominion Brewing CO., Double TroubleD is an extremely well-balanced sip that will be a delicious change in your regular whiskey programming.
New to the market is Exclave Spirits. Created to honor and recognize the contributions that Black American spirit producers have made to the industry over the years, Exclave Spirits is known for its New Orleans Rye Whiskey. Aged for over 3 years, this rye is a powerful blend of 51% rye 49% corn mash aged in new American white oak barrels to produce a rich whiskey that gives notes of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and clove.
Located in the heart of New Orleans, River Basin Distillery follows the time-honored American tradition of aging American whiskey in oak barrels, which during the 19th century had to be transported down the Mississippi River to New Orleans. Back in the day this gave the clear, unaged whiskies time to penetrate the wood and age, giving off the color and flavors of the barrels. The end-result? A rich whiskey that embodies the fiery spirit of the French quarter with a Big Easy finish of vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and clove.
Blood really is thicker than water, or at least whiskey. Founded and owned by brother trio, Victor, Christian and Bryson Yarbrough, Brough Brothers is considered Kentucky’s first African-American owned distillery that has become highly recognized for its craft in small-batch bourbon. Born and raised in Louisville, Kentucky, the family was inspired to create a distillery that provided employment opportunities to minorities as well as increased economic development in their hometown.
Established in 2013 by owner/former American Craft Spirits Association President, Chris Montana and wife, Shannelle, Du Nord Craft Spirits is the first Black-owned micro-distillery in the U.S. Located in the heart of Minneapolis, this small urban craft distillery uses locally sourced ingredients to produce award-winning vodka, gins and yep, you guessed it…whiskey! Aged for two years, their blended whiskey called Mixed Blood is comprised of Du Nord’s own high-rye bourbon combined with a selection of sourced whiskeys, that yields a sweet taste with a warm peppery finish. In addition to distilling memorable spirits, Du Nord aspires to be a beacon for equality in the industry by his inclusive hiring practices and through the creation of his newly established Du Nord Foundation, which focuses on supporting under-represented business owners.
Recognized by the State of Kentucky as the First African Americans to make Kentucky bourbon that were not slaves, Fresh Bourbon offers a premium quality dram with a distinct approach to how they craft the spirit. Developed from grain to glass straight in the heart of Kentucky, owners and spouse whiskey duo, Sean and Tia Edwards, wanted to create a new, no bounds, bourbon experience! Fresh Bourbon is gently sweet and approachable with surprising complexity and satisfying depth. In early 2020, Sean and Tia announced their plans to build a 34,000 square foot distillery in the heart of Lexington, Kentucky, where they will produce Fresh Bourbon’s future line of bourbon and other whiskeys.
Hailing from the West Coast, South Bay Spirits is the first craft distillery in San Jose, California serving the South Bay area ultra-premium craft spirits. A hobby he enjoyed while working full time in the tech industry, founder Eric Roberts turned his passion for distilling spirits into a career and opened the distillery. Since its inception in 2015, South Bay Spirits has been crafting their own vodkas, whiskeys and everything in between in small batches to ensure quality over quantity. In addition to opening a tasting room, tap room and restaurant, we hear they are developing a brand-new California style bourbon and we cannot WAIT to try.