Spotlight on Innovation: Brough Brothers Carves Out a Niche in Kentucky Bourbon
Kentucky’s first Black-owned bourbon brand invites everyone to the table
When brothers Victor, Christian, and Bryson Yarbrough set out to open a distillery in their hometown of Louisville, they knew they would be making more than bourbon; they’d be making history. Launched in 2019, Brough Brothers is Kentucky’s first Black-owned distillery—a long-overdue milestone for an industry with a long track record of exclusion. Through the brothers’ dedication, experience, and marketing savvy, Brough Brothers is quickly becoming a sought-after brand across the country.
Despite growing up a stone’s throw from world-famous distilleries, Victor Yarbrough didn’t come to appreciate bourbon until he moved to London for a job with Goldman Sachs. Seduced by the rich brown spirit, he left the corporate finance world and founded a company with his brother Bryson to import moonshine and bourbon to the United Kingdom, and export English hard cider to the United States. As his distribution network grew, he set his sights on opening a bourbon distillery with his brothers back in Kentucky.
After setting up operations in Louisville’s West End, the Yarbroughs exported their first bottles of Brough Brothers bourbon to the UK in 2019 and opened for business in the U.S. the following year. Their timing turned out to be fortuitous—in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in 2020 and the nationwide protests to follow, Black-owned drinks brands saw a surge in consumer support that has been gaining momentum ever since.
On Drizly—which now includes a search feature that allows retailers to tag products from Black producers—the number of Black-owned brands grew 10 percent year-over-year in 2021, and the number of SKUs increased by more than 45 percent. Share of overall Drizly sales for Black-owned brands jumped 60 percent year-over-year in 2021.
BevAlc Insights chatted with Brough Brothers CEO Victor Yarbrough to learn more about the brand’s path to success and the brothers’ plans for the future.
BevAlc Insights: What inspired you and your brothers to launch a Kentucky bourbon brand? Were you bourbon drinkers when you were younger?
Victor Yarbrough (VY), CEO of Brough Brothers Distillery: Yes and no. We weren’t necessarily enthusiasts, but growing up in Kentucky, bourbon was always around. I started to do a lot of tasting and became more of a connoisseur around 2011 to try and determine the best way to bring bourbon into the UK.
Why did you choose the West End as the location for your distillery rather than touristy Whiskey Row?
VY: We were raised in the West End of Louisville; much of our family lives there still. We wanted to create a legacy that our city and community would be proud of and bring economic opportunity to an area in need of economic investment. The community strongly supports Brough Brothers and has rallied behind us with great pride. They see it as a beacon of hope.
Did you specifically set out to be the first Kentucky bourbon brand founded by African Americans?
VY: I never really thought about it being a Black-owned brand until getting back to the U.S. For me, it wasn’t about Black or white because we’d been exporting bourbon to the UK and we already had relationships. But I did know from running an alcohol business that there were very few Black owners. We are African American and we’ll let you know that, but this is a brand for everyone. So we marketed and pushed our story toward being inclusive, but when people see us they understand.
Have you been welcomed by the Kentucky bourbon industry?
VY: We’ve been well-received, I guess because of the way we carry ourselves. We’ve been embraced by the industry because they know we worked hard on our [trade] relationships for damn near a decade. People know us and they know what we’ve been doing, so they’re not thinking, “Oh, these dudes are just getting in there for some quick cash.”
How did Brough Brothers land distribution in 25 U.S. states so quickly?
VY: Our relationships with distribution channels were already in place before 2019 and 2020, when people really began talking about diversity and inclusion, and trying to bring in Black[-owned] brands. We were already in the mix before that happened, so people knew we were reputable guys they could do business with.
How are you positioning your bourbon in the market?
VY: We want to be accessible, that’s our strategy. Roughly $26.99 is the ideal price point, but we like to see it under $30. We’re looking to compete against other large companies, so we really want to be able to sell to everyone.
What qualities make Brough Brothers bourbon distinctive?
VY: Brough Brothers is an approachable bourbon that most people enjoy because of its fruity notes and smoothness.
What marketing or promotional strategies are you using to engage with people and get new customers, aside from your distillery tours?
VY: We do a lot of posts on social media. We do a Whiskey Wednesday on Instagram and we’ll have some more Facebook ads and videos that will come out within the next three or four months. With the pandemic’s ebbs and flows we’ve also started to do in-store tastings. Ultimately the goal is to build the brand—and the brand is us, the Brough Brothers.
What kind of outreach are you doing at the trade level?
VY: We’re doing tastings with store owners, basically sending them samples, and making sure they know about the brand and our story.
What do you and your brothers envision for the future of Brough Brothers?
VY: The key is expansion—more products, more growth, a larger building, more real estate. We have a clear, overproof rum that’s going to be released in the year’s first quarter, and we’ll have another bourbon line launch in the second or third quarter. We’ll also have a vodka and gin line for later in the year or maybe next year.
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