Food & Drink

The Essential Black-Owned Spirits and Wines You Need To Try Right Now

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uncle nearest whiskey
Photo by Stacy Preston Photography, courtesy of Uncle Nearest

I don’t know who needs to hear this, but it’s time to add some new bottles to your bar cart. Or wherever you stash your booze. As a part of the fight to increase equity among Black-owned businesses and brands, it’s important to be intentional about buying Black. A common obstacle that many Black owners of spirits and wines face however is having their products accessible in physical and online stores. 

Ashlee Tuck, cocktail enthusiast and founder of Will Drink For Travel curates information on Black businesses, including restaurants and spirits and has an expansive, growing list of Black-owned spirits. “As a part of my lifestyle, it's just important to support Black businesses across the board. And, since I love cocktails and spirits, it was just a natural fit for me.”

Spreading awareness of these brands is critical to their success and she mentioned distribution as a major hurdle. “A distributor has to pick you up in order for you to be put into liquor stores and a lot of distributors may not want to take a chance on Black owned spirits or, it may not be a big name like Tito's or Jack Daniel,” Tuck said. “They really have trouble getting into liquor stores now. But it would be nice to just walk into a liquor store anywhere you go and just have like a Black-owned section or just know you're going to go and see Guidance Whiskey on the shelf.” 

Cha McCoy, certified sommelier and beverage director for Cherry Bombe echoed Tuck’s sentiments on intentionally buying Black-owned wines and products in general. “Everybody starts from somewhere and most Black wine makers don't have the room to grow. We don't have legacies of generations of fifth generational winemakers. Ways you can support building Black winemakers as they build a legacy, is by ordering and tasting their wine, and maybe today the wine is drinkable, but as they learn more their wine will develop. Give new wine brands a shot! Consumers can help Black winemakers on their journey by purchasing new winemakers wine and tracking their development by tasting different vintages over time.  But you drink the wine and you go, ‘Oh, you know what? I wasn't in love with the label, or the name on it, but I love the wine. I love what you're doing here,’ and you get to learn something new about a lot of Black-owned wineries and winemakers. Like with ZAFA Wines in Vermont, I don't think I would have ever had a wine from Vermont if it wasn't for her.”

One of the best ways to help Black-owned spirits and wines brands besides buying them if they’re near you is to ask your local retailers to carry them if they aren’t. You can’t try something new if you don’t see it or know about it, which is why this guide serves as a starting point into intentional buying. I enlisted the help of Tuck and McCoy to curate a couple of their favorite brands they think you should try. Find out more about the brands they mentioned and more below. 

Wines

Curated by Cha McCoy

zafa wines
Photo by Homer Horowitz, courtesy of ZAFA Wines

ZAFA Wines and CO Cellars

New York isn’t the only place that claims apples as its official state fruit. Don’t sleep on Vermont apples and definitely put Krista Scruggs on your radar for her unique take on wines and ciders. Scruggs founded ZAFA Wines in 2018 in Isle La Motte, Vermont, with a focus on hybrid grapes and wild apples grown in the state. Sustainability is put first as all of ZAFA’s beverages are made using native fermentation with a process free of filtering, additives and fining. ZAFA’s current lineup includes three sparkling wines expected to be restocked during spring 2021, along with three canned wines, ciders, and a cider-wine blend from CO Cellars, a collaboration between Shacksbury Cider and ZAFA. 

“I'd definitely recommend [the ciders] if you're looking for something a little fizzy. It's a nice in-between if you're not a beer lover, but you don't want something as heavy in alcohol as wine,” McCoy said. “People know about the wines, but I think it would be worth mentioning [Krista] as a cider maker.”

Maison Noir Wines 2017 "Oregogne" Chardonnay

André Hueston Mack is a household name in the world of wines. In 2007, the seasoned sommelier founded Maison Noir, a line of wines ranging from rosé and riesling to pinot noir and red blends, and even apparel that’s inspired by wine and the street hip hop and punk culture of the ‘90s. While his Other People’s Pinot (O.P.P.) wines are more commonly available to buy online and in wine shops, McCoy recommends you stretch your wings and try the Oregogne chardonnay. 

“I think most of the ones that you see are the ones that are in the O.P.P. range, but I actually love his more higher end level, which you don't really see too much, so I would make sure to get his Oregogne. It's really rich and it's limited production, so it's his homage, in my case, to a Grand Cru level, versus the other ones being more like village level,” McCoy said.  

The 2017 Oregogne Chardonnay is crisp with full hints of lemon cucumber, green pear, grilled hazelnuts and yellow apple. A bottle runs at $40 not including shipping. 

ashanta wines
Photo by Will Basanta, courtesy of Ashanta Wines

Ashanta Wines

On the west coast, you’ll find Chenoa Ashton-Lewis and her partner Will Basanta producing wines under their label Ashanta Wines. “I’m excited. [Chenoa] is from Oakland and is a third generation Sonoma County grape farmer. As a Black woman, those are stories you don't really hear about, coming from a lineage of grape farming already,’ McCoy said.

Ashton-Lewis became fully submerged in the winemaking industry in 2019 when her family’s 50-year-old vineyard in Sonoma Mountain wine region was filled with an abundance of unsold grapes. Along with family and friends, Ashton-Lewis and Basanta went to work on picking, crushing and barrel aging the grapes to make Syrah and Pinot Noir co-fermented wines. Despite her family’s vineyard burning down in the 2017 Nuns Fire, the couple was able to salvage over 150 vines and nurse them back to health resulting in clusters of grapes. After some more picking and crushing, in 2020 they started the Ashanta Wines label through Coturri Winery and hand crafted ten cuvées, including Pet-Nats, fruit co-ferments, and bold California reds. 

Similar to ZAFA, Ashanta Wines are made without fining, filtering, commercial yeast and sulfites that aren’t naturally occurring. Ashton-Lewis said they are currently in the process of creating a website where everyone can purchase their wines online, but in the meantime Pasadena residents can order their sparkling “Sidra” cider and pét-nat wine here.

La Fête du Rosé
Photo courtesy of La Fête du Rosé

La Fête Du Rosé

Donae Burston’s rosé brand was all over my Instagram feed for several months in a row so when McCoy told me it was on her list of recommendations, it came at no surprise. “La Fête Du Rosé” literally translates to “the rosé party,” so celebration is a key component of the brand. Honoring diversity and giving back to the community stands at the top of Burston’s priorities with La Fête Du Rosé, along with a commitment to sustainable agriculture. 

Aside from drinking it at your next toast, this rosé goes great with foods too, which McCoy highlights as a rarity with some wines in this category. 

“It's a darker rosé. It has a little more color so not so blush, but like an orange grapefruit skin color,” McCoy said. “Some rosés lack some flavor that you would want with food, but this goes well with it.”

You can find this wine at a retailer near you or through ReserveBar and Total Wine

Spirits 

Curated by Ashlee Tuck

Anteel Tequila
Photo by Don Ferguson, courtesy of Anteel Tequila

Anteel Tequila

Founded by Nayana Ferguson and Don Ferguson, Anteel offers a line of ultra smooth tequilas made from highland and lowland agave and twice distilled natural spring water. A two-time cancer survivor, Nayana wanted to make a tequila that had natural ingredients that wouldn’t harm her body while still maintaining a good flavor. While they offer three tequilas including coconut lime, reposado, and blanco, Tuck really favors the coconut lime one.

“I love their coconut lime, you can sip it straight and it's delicious. [Nayana] made this tequila because she didn't want to put extra sugar in her body and anything unhealthy, and so this was the solution for her, and it's delicious,” Tuck said. 

The coconut lime blanco tequila is the only one in the world of its kind and if you’re into slightly sweeter tequilas, it’s the one for you. 

Redd Rose Vodka

Inspired by her grandmother, Rose-Mary Jackson, Taylor Jackson founded Redd Rose Vodka as a way to not only celebrate her achievements and strength, but the experiences of all women. With an extensive background in law, Jackson set out to develop her strawberry lemon flavored vodka in 2017, and later sold her her first bottle at the beginning of 2020. 

You won’t need a mixer or chaser with this drink as it’s smooth enough to drink straight or over ice. Grab a bottle here

Guidance Whiskey

Barrel aged for two years and distilled in Iowa, Guidance Whiskey is Jason Ridgel’s answer to making Black-owned spirits more prevalent. After production, the whiskey is housed in Nashville and contains a blend of corn, rye and malted barley, resulting in a high quality smooth finish. 

Upon opening a bottle, you’ll be greeted with smokiness and scents of burnt caramel, maraschino cherry, and vanilla making it ideal for a casual sip over ice or straight. Clear off some space on your shelf and secure your bottle here. And while you sip, read more about how Ridgel is helping other Black businesses in Nashville. 

Uncle Nearest whiskey
Photo by Stacy Preston Photography, courtesy of Uncle Nearest

Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

It’s impossible to make a list of essential Black-owned beverage brands without including Uncle Nearest. It’s the first spirit to be named after an African-American, and in this case, the first known African-American master distiller Nathan “Nearest” Green who is credited with teaching Jasper Newton "Jack" Daniel how to make whiskey. 

Fawn Weaver, co-founded Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey with her husband Keith Weaver in 2017 to honor Green’s legacy and his family. The 100 proof premium aged whiskey is made with a blend of eight to 14 year-old barrels and the 93 proof small batch is aged a minimum of seven years. Like a true Tennessee whiskey, the distinct mellowing called the Lincoln County Process involves filtering the bourbon through sugar maple charcoal. You can buy a bottle here

LS Cream liqueur
Photo courtesy of LS Cream

LS Cream Liqueur

Often consumed during the holidays, cremas (or kremas) is a creamy, smooth alcoholic beverage native to Haiti. Founders Stevens Charles and Myriam Jean-Baptiste, who are both of Haitian descent, launched LS Cream due to the fact they couldn’t find cremas in stores, and used Stevens’ grandmother’s initials as an homage to her legacy and family recipe. A mix of fresh cream, vanilla, coconut, cinnamon, and nutmeg meshed with neutral spirits creates the sweet cream liqueur that you’ll want to indulge in even after the holidays. 

Hidden Spirits Cocktails

Pre-made cocktail squad, unite! Pam Davis’s Hidden Spirits cocktails come in three refreshing flavors: strawberry, apple spice, and lemonade. Made with all natural ingredients and tequila, rum and whiskey respectively, these sweet drinks are ready to drink or you can add more alcohol to each for an extra kick. They conveniently come in a box of three so you can try all of the flavors. Cheers!

ten to one rum
Photo courtesy of Ten to One

Ten to One

Rum is certainly an essential to any bar cart and Ten to One has a dark, white and a Reserve rum to choose from. Marc Farrell was born and raised in Trinidad and Tobago and made sure to bring the authenticity of a quality Caribbean rum to Ten to One -- all while holding the title of being Starbucks’ youngest former Vice President

All three rum offerings are free of added sugar, coloring and flavoring, and are available to purchase online.

exclave spirit
Photo courtesy of Exclave Spirits

River Basin Rye and Exclave Spirits

Take a trip to New Orleans without leaving your home by ordering a bottle of whiskey straight from the city. Co-founded by Andrew J. Albert, Elliott Wiener, and John Suarez, River Basin Distillery keeps the charm and whiskey history of New Orleans front and center. The rye whiskey recommended by Tuck is a blend of 95% rye mash aged in oak barrels, resulting in a nutty flavor profile finished with vanilla, cinnamon, caramel and clove. Experience the taste of the Crescent City by ordering a bottle. Albert also recently launched Exclave Spirits, which was created to pay homage to Black spirits producers. 

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Kristen Adaway is a staff writer at Thrillist. Follow her @kristenadaway
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