Top Picks For You
START

Build a Better Bar Cart: Stock up on These BIPOC-Owned Wine and Spirit Brands

11 BIPOC-owned wine, spirits, and bar accouterments worthy of your top-shelf.

The pandemic began a little over two years ago, and for many (us included), that meant the bar cart became one of the most frequented spots in our households. Yet, as the world begins to look a little brighter, at-home mixology and experimentation continue to be a staple in homes across the country. Whether you’ve run out of The Good Stuff or just want to try something new, we’ve rounded up a list of BIPOC-owned brands that’ll keep you well-stocked and sate your tastebuds.

Not only do these brands elevate any standard bar cart, but they highlight BIPOC owners who often face a barrier to entry into the world of spirits. But BIPOC makers have been influencing, creating, and perfecting our favorite spirits for centuries. Without them, we wouldn’t have the rums, whiskeys, and tequilas we do today. Keep reading to meet some of the owners behind pioneering alcohol brands and, more importantly, where you can purchase them.

1 OF 11

Ten To One Rum

Launched in 2019, Ten To One hopes to shift the spotlight to the often underappreciated spirit, rum, which itself has Black origins. Dating back to 1650, historians can trace rum’s origins to the African slave trade, where rum was produced from molasses by enslaved Africans.

Ten To One hopes to reclaim rum’s dark origin story while elevating the spirit to the same level of prestige that boutique whiskey and tequila distilleries are currently experiencing. Ten To One doesn’t shy away from highlighting and celebrating its roots, working to amplify Black voices within the distilling and bartending world. With efforts like their Kindred Spirits manual, an illustrated cocktail book inspired by Black pre-prohibition bartender Tom Bollock’s pioneering book The Ideal Bartender, which features recipes and stories from 28 BIPOC bartenders and mixologists across the U.S.

Founder and CEO Marc-Kwesi Farrell, an Ivy League grad hailing from Trinidad and Tobago, says, “The story of rum has its origins in the Caribbean and is a core part of those many moments of celebration that form a part of our cultural identity.” Raising glasses filled with rum instead of champagne? Check out Ten To One’s collaboration with Uncle Nearest (also featured on this list!) Bourbon Cask Finish Caribbean Dark Rum.

Farrell continues, “We think there’s a massive opportunity to replace some of the narrow caricatures and tropes too often tied to rum with something that showcases a more contemporary and inspired view of the spirit. Whether through unique collaborations or brand moments…[we] hopefully will inspire others to do the same.” So echoes their tagline: “This is rum reimagined.”

2 OF 11

Uncle Nearest Whiskey

A young Jack Daniel is often recognized as the face of American whiskey, often credited for his signature recipe and popularizing the spirit across colonial America. But Uncle Nearest is working on peeling back that veneer to reveal the true pioneer of the Jack Daniel’s signature whiskey recipe. Nathan “Nearest” Green was the formerly enslaved Black man who taught Jack Daniel the craft of whiskey making, specifically the Lincoln County process for making Tennessee whiskey.

Founder Fawn Weaver’s entry point to whiskey wasn’t necessarily born out of a desire to break into the spirits world but a mission to uncover this history and “cement the legacy” of the world’s first known African American master distiller. Resulting in award-winning whiskey, a wildly popular distillery, and the fastest-growing whiskey brand in America, it appears that Uncle Nearest’s legacy has been fulfilled.

Weaver has also worked to bring whiskey to all of America’s bar carts, shifting the common perception of what a whiskey drinker looks like, “You come to Nearest Green Distillery, and you will see every person under the sun…you will find men, women, young, old, Black, white, Asian, Latinx, Indian, and every other group represented on those tours. We’ve had several groups even come with interpreters. Uncle Nearest brings everyone together.” Intimidating by whiskey? Weaver suggests swapping your go-to spirit with Uncle Nearest.

“If they love a margarita, swap out the tequila for Uncle Nearest,” says Weaver. It takes that drink up a notch. If it’s a classic daiquiri served up, swap out the rum for Uncle Nearest. If they enjoy a sidecar, swap out the cognac for Uncle Nearest. The amazing thing about the flexibility of Uncle Nearest is it is the perfect replacement in pretty much every classic cocktail.”

3 OF 11

Ashanta Wines

You can’t stock a bar cart without a go-to wine. Ashanta Wines is a newbie winemaker and breath of fresh air in often fuddy-duddy Sonoma County wine country. Like many people mid-pandemic, founders Chenoa Ashton-Lewis (a third-generation winemaker) and Will Basanta decided to shift career gears, moving from Los Angeles to Glen Ellen in California, where their love for foraging and Chenoa’s expertise fused to create proverbial magic–the fizzy effervescence found in their beautifully crafted bottles of natural wine.

“Living in Sonoma County, there’s always an abundance of fruit left on the trees or vines after prime harvest season,” says Ashton-Lewis, “If we don’t pick them, the birds and coyotes will eat them, or the fruit will eventually shrivel and dry up. Sankofa sums up our ethos around foraging that it is not taboo to fetch what is at risk of being left behind.”

In recent years, the concept of “natural wine” has been quite polarizing within the oh-so-serious world of wine. And while there is no concrete data for its booming popularity (what constitutes natural wine is hard to define), take a look around; the cool kids might be hanging out at your local natural wine spot. On the hunt? You can stock up on Ashanta from their website or in person from some of Chenoa’s favorites, including The Valley Bar and Bottle in Sonoma, Psychic Wines in Los Angeles, Colonia Verde in New York, and other natural wine shops and restaurants across the country.

4 OF 11

La Gritona Tequila

Celebrities A to C list! All aboard the tequila train to Jalisco! This is your last call! Jokes aside, it seems you can’t swing the door open to a liquor store without being bombarded with yet another celebrity tequila brand. And while some brands do have an air of prestige or an inkling of street cred, these celeb cash grabs and glorified hobbies are edging smaller, Mexican-born and bred tequila brands out of the market. So, the next time you’re in the market for a flavorful, expertly-crafted tequila, reach for La Gritona. This female-owned, female-distilled reposado tequila brand keeps things local, down to its ornate and distinct hand-blown bottle made from recycled Mexican glass. Even the agave remnants left over after production are distributed to local cattle for feed. As tasty as it is sustainable and equitable, this accessible and affordable tequila belongs on your top shelf.

5 OF 11

Birdie Brown’s Plain Hooch

Call it what you will—moonshine, white whiskey, white lightning; essentially, it’s an unaged whiskey and delicious. But hooch, as it’s commonly known, is often associated with college kitchen sinks (see Jungle Juice) and “hicks,” with its history of craft distillery and homesteaders being lost to time. One brand is working to change that and elevate yet another Black distiller and pioneer, Birdie Brown.

“When I read about her story, I was just amazed. I didn’t even know African Americans tried to homestead”, says co-owner of Birdie Brown Plain Hooch, David Schure, “I am amazed at how strong and brave she was to have embarked on that mission. A National Parks Service study estimated that 3,500 African Americans successfully obtained their patents for approximately 650,000 acres! I had no idea. That part of history usually doesn’t mention us. But we were there.”

“A lot of people don’t think of moonshine in a super-premium way,” Schure continues. But he recommends Birdie be your new go-to replacement in your favorite vodka drinks or in a Moscow Mule. “It is really versatile.” Don’t think of Birdie Brown as a bougie-branded Everclear either, “It differs greatly from most moonshines on the market in that most of those are made from 100% corn and offer a completely different taste. Birdie Brown Plain Hooch has zero corn. We use wheat, oats, and barley at a craft distillery we contract within Montana. Those are all much more expensive ingredients than corn. And that mash bill allows us to go in the bottle at 100 proof and still deliver an unbelievably smooth finish,” says Schure. Get a taste of Birdie Brown over on their website, which features delicious cocktail recipes like What an Angel, a heavenly mix of hooch, vermouth, and St. Germain.

6 OF 11

Lobos 1707 Mezcal

Mezcal is having a moment. While the smokey spirit might not be for everyone, its unique flavor makes it the perfect replacement for whiskey and tequilas. “I can see why celebrities are interested in becoming a part of this industry,” says Lobos 1707 CEO Dia Simms. “The spirits industry is a fun, celebratory space with a lot of hard-working, incredible people. That said, consumers today are savvy, and celebrity by itself only works when paired with an exceptional product.”

Simms has the goods to back it up and then some. With a powerhouse professional background (she’s worked for the Department of Defense and Diddy himself), her unique career path primed her for work in the spirits industry. The result? A just-right smoky-sweet mezcal perfect in Palomas, margs, and more. A champion for Black women in business, Simms advises, “There is enough work, wealth, and opportunity in the world to find a place where you are valued. Sometimes that is entering historical spaces and changing from within, and sometimes that is starting a new space completely from scratch. Building the future you want to see.” This advice is a stark contrast to Kim Kardashian’s recent advice to aspiring businesswomen. Ready to feel the burn? Find recipes, merch, and more on their website.

7 OF 11

Bitters by Hella Cocktail Co.

Throughout history, many drinks have been used as health tonics, and bartenders know that the secret medicine is in the recipe’s bitters. A dash or two of the tincture (often made from bitter aromatics like orange peel, bark, and cassia, and including flavoring agents like spices, dried flowers, and herbs) in your drink is all you need to create a flavor-bomb cocktail balanced with a dose of rejuvenating cordial, including classics like an Old Fashioned and Sazerac. Jomaree Pinkard, Co-Founder and CEO of Hella Cocktail Co. has grown Hella Bitters beyond the essential flavor, and now the company produces a line of non-alcoholic cocktail mixers, bitters, as well their newest innovation, Bitters & Sodas, which makes it even easier for novice bartenders to create concoctions at home.

“Hella is rooted in the pursuit of bold flavor, built on inclusivity and community, and serving elevated choice to all, always,” says Pinkard. “We have deep respect and reverence for culture, heritage, and where we’ve been can inspire where we can go. Everything from our ingredients to the people we work with are chosen to cultivate more diversity in all the spaces Hella inhabits.”

You can’t go wrong with any variety pack available from Hella Cocktail, but you’ll find they’re often sold out from their site. Check out Whole Foods, BevMo, and even Delta Air Lines to get your hands on the zesty, curative cordial.

8 OF 11

Mixers by AVEC Drinks

Though a Cuba Libre is an all-time classic, sugary soda isn’t always the right complement for celebrating. That’s where AVEC Drinks swoops in to spice up your concoction. “We took inspiration from around the globe to inspire our flavors – think yuzu from Japan, inspiration from a West Indian ginger beer, or the use of pomelos from Thailand,” says co-founder Denetrias ‘Dee’ Charlemagne. Carbonated mixers with naturally occurring (and drastically less) sugars come in flavors like Hibiscus & Pomegranate, Jalapeño & Blood Orange, Grapefruit & Pomelo, Yuzu & Lime, and ginger. They’re delicious enough to drink sans alcohol, though the sampler pack should get any party started.

“We are rethinking the adult drinking moment so that it is more inclusive and gives you a choice. AVEC allows you to choose whether to mix with a spirit or drink solo, and our recipes are low sugar and tasty all at once, so there is no compromise between health and taste.” Avec’s diverse team influences more than their palette–their priorities include notable charitable initiatives like a percentage of proceeds benefitting community fridges across New York City.

9 OF 11

Bar Tools by The Cocktailery

Having a stacked liquor cabinet won’t fashion the best cocktails–every good bartender knows their drinks are only as precise as their tools. While a professional mixologist needs utilitarian utensils to create by-the-book recipes, your home bar kit probably doesn’t need to be so formal. But it should certainly be stylish. No one’s barware compares to The Cocktailery’s, where shakers are wrapped in rattan, tools are stored on literal “monkey bars”, and shakers, strainers, and jiggers are available in design options like rose gold and gunmetal. The creators understand the mythos that surrounds mixology and aim to create inroads for diverse drinkers to get their shake on. Functional, affordable (with bonus chic presentation) products allow for all levels of drinkers to feel invited behind the bar.

10 OF 11

Coasters by Karen Jai Homes

Is there anything more Instagrammable than a perfectly coiffed cocktail? How about when said libation perches upon a gorgeous coaster? Brass hammered, gold-dipped marble, or shimmery pink agate–Karen Jai Homes’ saucers are so beautiful you might not even want to put a drink on them.  

Janelle Langford, Founder and Creative Director of the brand, brings her sharp eye for unique homeware to the masses after 15 years as a fashion and beauty publicist, and lucky for us, the goods include these chic plates for when your libation needs a rest. “Beautiful [barware] can effortlessly elevate a cocktail to the desired level of sophistication…I always yield to presentation,” she admits. “Bring in different textures and shapes, making any tablescape both functional and swoon-worthy.”

In for a penny, in for a pound, people! Coasters aren’t just beer mats, and you aren’t just serving up a pub pint. Glam up your glass with a slab of sexy! 

11 OF 11

Shadow Ridge’s Distilled Gin

“I love that gin is such a polarizing spirit, some people either love it or hate it,” says Sean Hallman, distiller at Shadow Ridge Spirit Company. But what’s not to love about a married couple passionately cooking up some craft spirits on the weekends? Shadow Ridge Spirit Company is an additional venture for husband and wife duo Sean Hallman and Lisa Ireland (a Navy veteran and high school teacher, respectively). “My wife and I share the roles in the distillery.  We both mash our grains, distill, bottle, label, etc. This has definitely been a team effort.”  

While the spirit company started out focused on rum and whiskey, Shadow Ridge’s Distilled Gin is their most recent baby. “For most people, their only experience with gin are London Dry gins. I wanted to include botanicals that didn’t make the gin a juniper bomb.” The gin’s remarkably clean base neutral spirit allows for a creative variety of botanicals to tickle your taste buds, including juniper and citrus, of course, but also Szechuan peppercorns, Gunpowder green tea, and galangal. Shadow Ridge’s calling card has unique flavors, allowing the brand to compete with and stand out from legacy liquors. “This industry has room for everyone. It’s been fun both adding to veteran traditions with my spirits and starting new traditions…I want to be a resource for not only BIPOC and veterans but anyone that is thinking of taking the plunge into the spirits world.”

0 Comments