Despite massive growth in just about every aspect of the American drinks landscape, it remains a whitewashed affair. The BIPOC community is taking on more roles than ever, but a lot more work needs to be done to truly diversify the scene.
The reasons for the small slice of the pie are many and nuanced. Anybody who’s set foot in a large American city knows that the signs of gentrification are usually bookended by a new craft brewery at the end of one historic block, and a hip new bar or restaurant at the other. In short, a lot of these businesses thrive off of a culture that displaces people (longtime locals of color, especially) only to invite in a new neighborhood that can regularly shell out $10 for a half-pour of wild-fermented saison.
In short, the scene demands better access for all, now more than ever. It’s vibrant now, but imagine the places craft beer and independent wine could go if these arenas truly reflected the population? In a toast to both Black Lives Matter and an always-in-season belief in inclusion, we thought we’d highlight some of the best black-owned breweries, wineries, distilleries, and more operating in the circuit today.
One of Portland’s fastest-growing neighborhoods is also home to Assembly Brewing. Cofounder and head brewer George Johnson opened the doors to his place last March. Since then, he’s been turning out quality IPAs as well as lighter options like Kölsch, a blonde, and a wheat.
Crowns and Hops
Based in the Inglewood area of Los Angeles, Crowns and Hops is making quite a splash. It’s the neighborhood’s first black-owned brewery and brings a new perspective to the surging LA beer realm. A new brewing space is in the works and founders Teo Hunter and Beny Ashburn have embraced the role in style, with a growing legion of admirers and a social media presence that’s spreading the word of minority-run labels.
Washington state producer Frichette Winery focuses on fruit from the distinctive Red Mountain AVA. Co-owner Shae Frichette is originally from South Carolina and now helps head a small label working with Merlot, Cab, Semillon, and more. At just around 1,400 cases per year, it’s a real family-run, small-batch operation.
Launched by André Mack, Maison Noir represents both a love affair with the Willamette Valley and a creative shake-up within the traditional wine system. Mack, who worked the floor for years as a somm, now makes fantastic wine under an equally fantastic aesthetic, sporting names like O.P.P. (Other People’s Pinot Noir) and Oregogne. Maison Noir is as much as an eye-catching brand as it is a purveyor of reasonably priced adult juice.
McBride Sisters Wine
McBride Sisters is the brainchild of siblings Robin and Andréa McBride, who grew up in the wine regions of Marlborough, New Zealand and Monterrey, California. The label is the byproduct of a shared love for wine and is now the largest black-owned producer in the country. The wines offer an expansive view of the northern California wine scene, from Riesling and Chardonnay to bold red blends. They even source fruit from New Zealand to make bubbly and some Sauvignon Blanc.
Donna Stoney did not fall into the wine game. She took a nobler route, working as a social worker in Oregon. In fact, she’s the state’s first black female case manager for the Department of Human Services. She’s now a vintner, having studied under fellow Willamette Valley winemaker Bertony Faustin. As of last fall when her label officially launched, Stoney crafts Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Chardonnay, and Rosé.
California’s Theopolis Vineyards is set in the Anderson Valley. It was launched in 2003 by Theodora Lee (known as “Theo-patra” within wine circles). The Texas transplant landed in San Francisco in the late 80s and has been glued to wine ever since. Today, she’s the winemaker at Theopolis, making Pinot Noir, Petite Syrah, and more.
Based in Tennessee, Uncle Nearest is inspired by the slave distiller nobody knew at the time named Nathan Green. He helped jump-start one of the biggest names in American whiskey — Jack Daniel’s — without so much as an ounce of credit. Today, the distillery honors that legacy through a family of whiskeys. Construction continues on an expanded part of the facility that presently offers tours and immersive tastings.
Brough Brothers works out of Kentucky, focused on bourbon. The west Louisville label is run by a trio of siblings in Victor, Chris, and Bryson Yarbrough, with a micro-distillery facility set to open later this year. It’s set to be the state’s first black-owned bourbon operation, which sounds crazy given the contextual history.
Focused on craft probiotics, Cultured Kombucha is based in Washington, DC. Founder and chief brewing officer Milan Jordan says she started the outfit to expand the wellness movement into more diverse territory. Her work is incredibly appetizing, with flavors like Lotus Flower Bomb (lavender, rose, agave, green tea) and Straight Outta Concord (black tea and Concord grapes).
Calabash is a DC-based tea and tonic outfit run by Sunyatta Amen. She trained under master herbalists working as a kid at her parents’ herbal shop and juice bar in New York. While Calabash touts a whole host of great medicinal goods, the tea stands out; lovely and sensuous chai blends that can be shipped throughout the country.
Du Nord Craft Spirits
Twin Cities distillery Du Nord Craft Spirits launched in 2013. Run by husband-and-wife team Chris and Shanelle Montana, the outfit focuses on whiskey, vodka, and gin, along with some extremely Minnesotan hooch, like apple du nord, lightly spiced and made from local corn. The smooth-drinking spirits are reason enough to support Du Nord. The fact that the distillery was significantly damaged during the recent protests is yet another.
Loft + Bear
Headquartered in downtown Los Angeles, Loft + Bear was founded, in a loft, in 2014 by Paul Ryan. The company’s small-batch work revolves around the flagship vodka, one that’s been described as a “whiskey drinker’s vodka.” It’s full of finesse and more aromatic than your typical clear grain liquor. Cooler still, a portion of the distillery’s proceeds go towards the LA homeless population via PATH.
Ten to One Rum
Many in the drinks realm have already heard the story of Marc Farrell, current rum ambassador and formerly the Starbucks’ youngest-ever vice president. Farrell jump-started the Ten to One brand last summer, looking to put rum on a pedestal from a Caribbean perspective. His work is split between a white and dark rum expression, blended in Holland and sourced from Jamaica, Barbados, the Dominican Republic, and his native Trinidad.
The list will grow and grow, if all goes according to plan. Be on the lookout for operations in the works, like Victor George, working to open the first black-owned distillery in south Florida and Fresh Bourbon Distilling Co, which will be based in Lexington, Kentucky. And pay attention to festivals like Fresh Fest in Pittsburgh and groups like Black Brew Culture.
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