How Retailers Can Support Black-Owned Drinks Brands
Retailers can help drive racial equity forward in the drinks space by stocking more of these products
In the wake of George Floyd’s killing at the hands of Minneapolis police officers on May 25, there has been a surge of awareness about the rampant racial inequality and injustice in American society. At the same time, calls to support Black-owned businesses have spurred increased interest in purchasing products from Black-owned brands.
This has been echoed throughout the beverage alcohol industry, where Black brands and Black drinks professionals have struggled to make inroads in a predominantly white industry. Over the past several weeks, Drizly users have shown that they want to support Black-owned drinks brands. Top Black-owned brands’ Drizly June daily sales were up anywhere from 40-585% over May daily sales. “We know consumers are continuing to actively seek out Black-owned brands on Drizly,” said Liz Paquette, head of consumer insights. “This increased awareness and trial is likely to convert many consumers into longer term customers of said brands once they’re able to test out the quality of the products firsthand.”
Several proprietors of Black-owned brands have noticed a similar uptick in sales. Donae Burston, the founder and CEO of La Fête du Rosé, says that sales over the last 30 days are up 265 percent over the previous 30 days, of which 75 percent of that increase can be attributed to the movement to support Black-owned businesses.
Napa Valley’s Brown Estate has seen increased social media and website traffic, mailing list and club signups, and online purchasing. “If the brand discovery we saw in June is an indicator, consumers of every ilk are energized to support Black-owned wine brands when awareness exists,” says Stefanie Kelly, the director of operations for Brown Estate.
But in order to drive continued support for Black-owned brands among consumers, the industry needs to make real change too — and part of that equation is evaluating product mix on store shelves. “I hope this will be a moment of reflection for retailers and consumers alike to give Black-owned brands a fair shot,” Burston says.
On Drizly, for example, the presence of Black-owned drinks brands is limited to the inventory of its retail partners. Drizly says it is proactively working with its partners to bring more Black-owned brands onto the platform and to make them more widely available.
Many Black-owned drinks businesses — including Hella Cocktail Co.’s CEO and cofounder Jomaree Pinkard — are urging those in the distribution and retail tiers to take the 15 Percent Pledge, committing 15 percent of their portfolios and shelf space to Black-owned brands.
The Brown Estate team says it is hopeful that recent events will help the drinks industry become more diverse, and that Black drinks consumers will also start to gain respect. “These are prerequisites for making the beverage space at large more hospitable to Black consumers, Black industry professionals, and Black-owned businesses, so the impulse to support these businesses can find greater expression,” says Kelly.
For Fawn Weaver, the CEO of Uncle Nearest Whiskey, it’s important that consumers and retailers support Black-owned businesses not just based on the skin color of their owners, but based on the quality and philosophy of the product. “I don’t want consumers buying Uncle Nearest solely because we are Black-owned,” says Weaver. “I want them to support Uncle Nearest because we have done everything with integrity and excellence from day one.”
The list below highlights some of the Black-owned drinks brands currently available on Drizly. At BevAlc Insights, we urge more retailers to consider supporting these brands, and to seek out additional Black-owned brands, to help drive the drinks industry toward a more equitable future.
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Inspired by the first known African-American master distiller, Nearest Green, Uncle Nearest Whiskey is the fastest-growing independent, premium American whiskey brand in the U.S. Top-notch sourcing and careful aging of Tennessee whiskies, all filtered through sugar maple charcoal, have made Uncle Nearest beloved by American whiskey lovers.
“When the spotlight of racial inequality came to the forefront, many were reminded that Uncle Nearest is a Black-owned company, and I think many of our consumers felt even better about the ‘why’ behind their continued support for us,” says Weaver, noting that it’s important for her to ensure that the brand remains minority-owned and run. The all-female leadership team is helmed by Weaver, the first Black woman to run a major whiskey brand.
While musician Jon Bon Jovi is often seen as the face of this favorite new rosé brand, Hampton Water was actually the idea of college friends Ali Thomas and Jesse Bongiovi (Bon Jovi’s son). Crafted by winemaker Gérard Bertrand, the dry rosé is made from Grenache, Cinsault, and Mourvèdre grapes grown in the south of France.
Union Craft Brewing
Based in Baltimore, Maryland, Union Craft Brewing was founded in 2011 based on the notion that beer unites all people. Under the oversight of co-founder and director of brewing operations Kevin Blodger, who is also chair of the Brewers Association’s diversity committee, the brewery creates a wine range of beers, from lagers and IPAs to goses and barrel-aged stouts.
Armand de Brignac
Dubbed “Ace of Spades” by friends and fans, Armand de Brignac is one of the most luxurious and expensive Champagne brands around, known for its metallic bottles. Now owned by Jay-Z, Armand de Brignac is made by the Cattier family in the Montagne de Reims.
Maison Noir Wines
Sommelier André Hueston Mack worked in some of the country’s best restaurants, including The French Laundry and Per Se, before starting his Oregon winery in 2007. These small-production wines have since become favorites among industry insiders and casual wine lovers alike, crafted from fruit sourced from some of Oregon’s best vineyards.
Myx Fusions is the personal project of music icon Nicki Minaj, who set out to create unique and delicious Moscatos and Sangrias. Originally available as single-serve beverages, Myx is now available in 750 mL bottles and has launched a semi-sweet red blend as well.
Legend Vineyard Exclusives (LVE)
Already a music legend and the first Black man to have won an Emmy, Grammy, Oscar, and Tony, John Legend was set on pursuing his other dream: Starting a world-class wine brand. In 2015, he partnered with Napa Valley producer Raymond Vineyards to create the LVE Collection, which includes fresh French still and sparkling rosés alongside delicious Napa red, white, and sparkling wines.
18th Street Brewery
Initially founded as a home brewery by Drew Fox, in less than a decade 18th Street Brewery has grown to be northwest Indiana’s second-largest brewery. Pilsners, pale ales, double milk stouts, and IPAs comprise the brewery’s flagship beers, but there are always one-off and barrel-aged options released at 18th Street’s brewpub and taproom.
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers
Speakeasy Ales & Lagers has been a fixture of San Francisco’s brewing community since it launched its Prohibition Ale in 1997. But just a few years ago, its future was uncertain. Beer lovers rejoiced when beverage industry veteran Ces Butner purchased Speakeasy in 2017, after years of knowing and loving the brewery. Now, Speakeasy looks forward to a future of growth for its beloved San Francisco brews.
Loft & Bear
In 2014, vodka lover Paul Ryan Elliott decided to attempt to create an artisanal product better than any other commercially available vodka. Then 29 years old, he became one of the country’s youngest distillery owners. The small-batch vodka is distilled in downtown Los Angeles from organic winter wheat and California spring water, and is slow-distilled to coax out nuanced flavors.
Earl Stevens Wine
Platinum-selling recording artist and actor Earl Stevens (more often known by his stage name, E-40) has launched his passion project: A line of fruit-forward, easy-drinking wines. From the red blend to flavored Moscatos, all are serious crowd-pleasers.
Green Bench Brewery
After working at Tampa Bay breweries like Cigar City, head brewer and co-owner Khris Johnson set out to launch St. Petersburg, Florida’s first microbrewery with partners Steven Duffy and Nathan Stonecipher. Green Bench now produces beer, mead, and cider, all of which range from the classic to the experimental.
Hella Cocktail Co.
Founded by three friends living in New York City, Hella Cocktail Co. was created to democratize craft cocktails, allowing anyone to mix up excellent drinks at home. From mixers for classic cocktails like Margaritas and Bloody Marys, to homemade bitters and a supremely popular canned bitters and soda, Hella Cocktail Co.’s nonalcoholic beverages elevate the average home bar.
Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur
Retired lawyer James Marshall set out to craft a unique, world-class liqueur in his hometown of Louisville, Kentucky when he launched Rivulet Artisan Pecan Liqueur. Based on high-quality brandy aged in small bourbon barrels, the small-batch liqueur uses meticulously-sourced pecans to create a spirit with nutty, butterscotch-like tones that is equally fit for mixing into cocktails or sipping neat.
La Fête du Rosé
After 15 years of working in the beverage industry, Donae Burston decided it was time to create a rosé brand truly geared towards multicultural consumers. La Fête du Rosé is the first Black-owned rosé from St. Tropez, France, made from sustainable Grenache, Mourvèdre, and Syrah grapes. Burston is determined to use his rosé to give back, and through August, $2 from every bottle will be donated to Color of Change.
Having fought her way into the South African wine industry to become the country’s first Black woman winemaker, Ntsiki Biyela established her own wine brand, Aslina, in 2016. Biyela’s red and white wines have since become some of South Africa’s most sought-after bottles.
Both winery and socioeconomic empowerment business, South Africa’s Fairvalley Wines was created in 1997 by 36 families who worked for historic wine and cheese producer Fairview. Under the helm of cellar master Awie Adolf, Fairvalley now makes Chenin Blanc, Sauvignon Blanc, and Pinotage from Fairview fruit, and profits go towards developing vineyards and homes on Fairvalley’s property.
The three Brown siblings — Deneen, David, and Coral — began making wine in 1996 from the Napa Valley estate their parents had rehabilitated over a decade prior. Today, it’s the first and only Black-owned estate winery in Napa Valley, known for its fantastic Zinfandel wines, among others. Soon, the winery will launch a second label, House of Brown, with an accessible and widely available California Chardonnay.
Du Nord Craft Spirits
In the heart of Minneapolis, Chris Montana created Du Nord as a family business making delicious craft spirits. The award-winning L’Etoile Du Nord vodka — meaning “the star of the north — is a sipping vodka, meant to be sipped neat or highlighted in cocktails with citrus notes. In June 2020, the company created the Du Nord Foundation to address racial inequities and support minority-owned businesses in Minneapolis and St. Paul, and it has created a riot recovery fund for the minority-owned businesses impacted by recent riots and looting.
House of Mandela Wine
Founded by the descendents of Nelson Mandela, House of Mandela works to preserve the legacy of the Mandela name while working to improve the lives of African communities — and they are doing that through wine as well. Each line of wine is named after the Mandelas’ ancestors and family members and aims to embody the spirit of South Africa and its people.
Created by Malcolm Hale, Plush aims to refine vodka through a meticulous process of distilling eight times. Smooth and sophisticated, this premium vodka also comes in a plum-flavored style.
18th Street Distillery
From the team behind 18th Street Brewery, this distillery is the first to open in northwest Indiana since Prohibition. Artisan spirits like rye whiskey, rum, gin, and even moonshine are aged carefully to create full and layered flavors.
Blackleaf Organic Vodka
To create a premium, organic vodka, entrepreneur Kevin Larkai sought out the right spirits producer as a partner. He found that in Maison Rene Laclie, which has more than a century of Cognac-producing history. The combination of ths know-how, along with organic winter wheat and Cognac spring water, creates a smooth and refined French spirit.
Harlem Brewing Co.
Harlem Brewing Co. was created by Celeste Beatty as a one woman-operation nearly two decades ago. These beers are now sold internationally, winning awards for the brewery’s IPAs, ales, and wits while bringing recognition to the company’s home Harlem neighborhood.
Founded by Rodney E. Foster, Edelheiss Wine works with German growers to create organic red and sparkling wines. The fortified red in particular is inspired by Foster’s love of gluhwein, or mulled wine, using a special blend of spices to create a harmonious taste.
In a repurposed 1950s gas station, head brewer Stephen Kirby specializes in English ales, particularly those that are cask-conditioned. All are naturally processed and unfiltered.
White Lion Brewing Company
White Lion is the first craft brewery in Springfield, Massachusetts, created by Raymond L. Berry, Jr. to establish a local product for the city. The team specializes in a range of ales, IPAs, and other refreshing styles.
Victor George Vodka
Founded by Fort Lauderdale businessman Victor G. Harvey, this ultra-premium vodka uses all-natural American ingredients, distilled in small batches, to create a smooth, refined vodka.
A boutique, family-operated winery in Livermore Valley, California, Longevity Wines creates small batches of wines from Cabernet Sauvignon and Merlot to Rhône blends and Chardonnay. Winemaker Phil Long approaches every wine not just focusing on the end product, but on the experience of making it — with friends and family — as well.
Three friends from Queens, New York came together to create delicious wines to be opened and shared with friends after a long week of work. The first Esrever wine is a refreshing sparkler made from Chardonnay and Chenin Blanc.
Vanilla Puddin’ Wine
A collaboration from Gabrielle Union, R.C. Mills, and JaM Cellars, Vanilla Puddin’ Chardonnay was created to be both stylish and approachable. Made in California and aged in French oak, it has ripe pineapple fruit and hints of vanilla.
Sherrijon Gaspard loves sparkling wine, so she set out to create a contemporary line of bubblies in a range of colors and styles. The Vina Sympatica wines are juicy, easy-drinking, and most of all, fun.
Chris Christensen founded Bodkin Wines with one goal: To create the first sparkling Sauvignon Blanc in the U.S. Together with business partner Andrew Chambers, he now makes a number of wines from Bodkin’s Sonoma County home, always with the goal of crafting interesting wines from common varieties.
Mal Bien Mezcal
The team behind Mal Bien is determined to go off the beaten path to share Mexico’s best mezcals—and the stories of the people who make them. Each mezcal comes from a different mezcalero, selected to share a unique sense of place.
Founded in October 2017, this coconut cream liqueur is an all-natural, Bahamian spirit. A blend of coconut water, sweet cream, and gin, it creates delicious and harmonious cocktails.
Made with no preservatives or artificial sweeteners, gluten-free Beach St. really is vodka soda in a can. Both flavors—Coastal Lime and Cranberry Splash—are based on the company’s own vodka and mixed with carbonated water, fruit zest, and cane sugar.
Shadow Ridge Spirits Co.
Based in Oceanside, California, Shadow Ridge Spirits Co. is owned by husband-and-wife team Sean Hallman and Lisa Ireland. The craft distillery specializes in premium, small-batch whiskies, including bourbon, rye, and single malts, all aged in charred oak barrels to develop deep and complex flavors. Shadow Ridge also produces two rums, and it will soon be launching a gin.
Carbonadi Vodka’s distinctive black bottle is a nod to its filtration process; distilled from Italian wheat, it’s filtered through carbonados, or black diamonds, which extracts extra impurities. The result is a smooth, pleasant, ultra-premium vodka fit for cocktails or sipping neat.