Alcohol has been around for a long time. How long? While the first "fermented drink" can be traced back to 7000 BCE, the first known beer recipe was etched into clay tablets by Black Sumerian women around 1800 BCE. Created as a hymn to Ninkasi—the Sumerian goddess of alcohol—this recipe reached modern hands in 1991 after Anchor Brewing Company brewed up a batch based on a translation by Miguel Civil, a Professor of Sumerology at the University of Chicago. The beer didn't take off commercially—mostly because it is meant to be consumed right away—but the takeaway here is that Black culture has been significant to the alcohol business for as long as we can remember.
In this article, we're taking a look at some of the Black-owned and founded brands in the alcohol beverage industry to celebrate these crafters and their work in pushing the industry to new heights.
Maison Noir Wines
This double-sided project that blends a lifestyle brand with wine production was founded in 2007 by sommelier André Hueston Mack. The apparel portion of Maison Noir takes its inspiration from the punk and hip-hop stylings of wine lifestyle and street culture, throwing in some of the skate scene reminiscent of the 90s, while the wine production is covered by a variety of Oregon vineyards, producing everything from pinot noirs and chardonnays to Rieslings and rosés.
If you haven't heard of Uncle Nearest yet, you're not drinking enough whiskey. Founded by Fawn Weaver in 2017 and named for Nearest Green, the first-known African American distiller who also taught Jack Daniel all he knew about the whiskey trade, this company's all-female leadership team is taking it to high places — and fast. In just two years, it expanded to all 50 states and 12 countries and is known as one of the "top 5 whiskies in the world." It's the most awarded American bourbon from 2019 & 2020, also having been profiled in the New York Times and Forbes. In 2022, the brand made history, becoming the most successful Black-owned distillery in the world with more than $100 million in sales.
Longevity Wines is a family-owned, urban winery and certified minority-owned business that calls the Livermore Valley wine region of Northern California home. What started as a shared hobby working out of their garage, quickly went from dream to reality. Founded in 2008, the brand draws inspiration from the “experience of enjoying quality wine: the food you have with it, the place you enjoy it and the friends you share it with—the pairings that make great memories.” In 2019, Longevity was named Livermore Valley’s Winery of the Year and is the third-largest brand in Livermore Valley.
18th Street Brewery
Founded as a home brewery in 2010 by Drew Fox, 18th Street Brewery became official with its release of SINISTER DIPA in 2013 — opening a 3,200 square-foot brewpub in Gary, Indiana shortly after its release. Now the second largest brewery operating in Northwest Indiana, the brewery has shifted operations to a warehouse in Hammond, Indiana, that houses the brewery’s production, packaging, barrel program, taproom and full-service kitchen. The original brewpub in Gary operates a 10-barrel fermentation system as well as a small taproom, craft cocktail bar and kitchen. The brewery was voted #1 Best Brewpub by USA Today Reader’s Choice 2019.
Staking their claim as the first Black-owned distillery in Kentucky, Brough Brothers was launched in December 2020. Founded by brothers Victor, Bryson and Christian Yarbough, the siblings from Louisville had a dream of producing America's spirit as minority entrepreneurs and also contributing to their community at large. Even the bottle supports Kentucky's vibrant culture, with the label showcasing bourbon, basketball, boxing and horse racing.
McBride Sisters Wine Company
Sisters from across the globe, Andrea and Robin McBride lived in California and New Zealand before meeting in person and eventually launching their brand McBride Sisters Wine Company. What began as a slice of destiny as the sisters grew up in different areas of the world has morphed into the largest Black-owned wine company in the US. With collections like Black Girl Magic and SHE CAN, their products stretch across a variety of grapes and sustainable approaches to wine production. Since 2005 their mission has been simple: transform the industry and break barriers so wine culture can be enjoyed by all.
With accolades from sommeliers and publications alike, La Fête du Rosé is making waves all the way from the St. Tropez peninsula. Founder Donae Burston created the brand in part to speak to diverse audiences, including Black, Brown and Asian drinkers, ensuring that the prevailing image of rosé—one that was "not reflective of the universal appeal of rosé"—received a much-needed facelift.
This lifestyle brand based out of Atlanta has a mission to promote Black-owned alcohol businesses, breweries, journalists and other movers and shakers in the industry. Its apparel aims to spotlight the contributions of Black brewing innovators and keep the conversation going about the important and diverse names helping evolve the culture of craft beer.
Green Bench Brewery
As St. Petersburg, Florida’s first microbrewery, owners Steven Duffy, Nathan Stonecipher and Khris Johnson have turned a passion into a thriving, community-first business. The brewery focuses on fresh, local ingredients to produce an array of unique craft beers, mead and ciders. The brewery is named after the waterfront city’s infamous “green benches” that were wrongfully off-limits to African-Americans during segregation. As a minority-owned business, Green Bench Brewery strives to educate others on the city’s painful past while paving the way for a brighter, inclusive future.
Hella Cocktail Co.
Before becoming a Co-founder and CEO of Hella Cocktail Co., Jomaree Pinkard had a lauded career, overseeing the development and implementation of The Salvation Army’s September 11 World Trade Center Recovery Program to consulting for the NFL. The idea was simple. Pinkard and his co-founders sought to create products that make it easier and more accessible to craft delicious drinks at home or behind the bar. Since founding Hella Cocktail Co. in 2012, the company has gone from a nugget of an idea to becoming a nationally distributed premium-quality food manufacturer that produces a line of nonalcoholic cocktail mixers, bitters, and its highly popular line of ready-to-drink NA beverages, Bitters & Soda.
Ten to One
The Caribbean and rum often go together hand in hand, but founder Marc Farrell's Ten to One brand of rum spirits aims to separate rum from the image of pirates and plantations. Ten to One appreciates the heritage of this age-old spirit while focusing on its role in contemporary Caribbean culture. With Dark and White rum varieties, these spirits are perfect for serving in cocktails or sipping neat.
Weathered Souls Brewing Co.
Even though it's a big state, Marcus Baskerville is the only Black-owner brewing in all of Texas. The Weathered Souls Brewing Co. exists to be both independent and inclusive, striving to help everyone benefit from good beer. Baskerville took that mission further in 2020 by crafting the Black is Beautiful beer after the killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, aiming to bring awareness to the injustices that people of color face every day.
And while you might not be able to drink the Weathered Souls version of Black is Beautiful (unless you take a visit to Texas), there's a good chance you can get a taste of it locally. More than 1,200 breweries nationwide have joined in to brew their own version, donating 100% of the proceeds to local foundations that support police brutality reform and provide legal services for those who have been wronged.
Legacy Wine & Spirits
Founded by best friends Kelvin Young and Djuan Ditto, Legacy Wine & Spirits is the first Black-owned distributor in Kentucky. These former liquor brand ambassadors are particularly happy to promote Black-owned and woman-owned brands, slowly growing a portfolio that is as varied and diverse as the state it was born in. Speaking of, their brand portfolio includes a variety of spirits, not least of which is the recent acquisition of Licataa sparkling wine from Wu-Tang's Raekwon the Chef.