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Representation Matters by Molly Troupe

It is undeniable that representation matters. Whether it’s in STEM, in the courtroom, or in the distillery, marginalized groups benefit when familiar faces are present. As someone who has benefited from such exposure, the amount of hope it can give someone, of a trail already blazed, is paramount. When I hear the stories of the women who came before me, their struggles and similarities, I know I am not alone. The same experience is felt by people of color, seeing distilleries and brands succeed in a landscape that historically is unfriendly to anyone who is not a white male. There are more distilleries than ever before that are owned by women and/or people of color in the United States, but these distilleries still represent just a fraction of the brands in the marketplace. For Black History Month, we are highlighting a few black-owned spirits brands that we admire.

The first black-owned spirit brand in the United States, 44 North, launched in 2004 in Idaho. Ken Wyatt and Ron Zier co-founded this distillery, which continues to command perfection in the spirits they produce. 44 North uses Idaho potatoes and other local ingredients to create a time and place with their products. 44 North Huckleberry vodka not only beautifully captures the state fruit of Idaho, but beautifully captures the state vegetable as well, and is delicious with a splash of lemonade. 

Years later, in 2012, Sorel Liqueur hit the market. Sorel is inspired by 500 years of Caribbean tradition of making a delicious hibiscus based liqueur in the kitchen. Jackie Summers strived to make a shelf-stable version of sorel that could be shared and provide liquid sunshine to the world. This liqueur is a bartenders best friend and is a great standalone low-abv cocktail choice, or a great accompaniment in a cocktail with other spirits added.

Du Nord Social Spirits in Minnesota launched in 2013 and has since released many different products. Chris Montanta started out as a lawyer but a love of homebrewing lead him and his wife Shanelle to launch a distillery utilizing local agriculture to make spirits reflective of their community. Their Apple Liqueur is one of my favorites, a perfect drink marrying the tart acidity of apples and sweetness of a liqueur.

Delta Dirt Distillery, located in Arkansas, launched their first product in 2020, a sweet potato vodka. Located in the richest farmland, the Arkansas Delta, they grow their own grain on their farm and use that grain to produce award-winning spirits. This distillery is also family owned, and the family has also owned their farmland since 1949. While the farm used to cropshare, more recently they have grown vegetables like the sweet potato. In 2017, the journey from sweet potato to vodka began, and after three years, they had perfected their recipe and released it into the world. Their vodka is creamy and smooth, and in 2022, won Double Gold at the San Francisco World Spirits Competitions, one of the most respected spirits judgings in the world.

Uncle Nearest is the most successful black-owned distillery in the world with $100 million in sales and projected to double by 2023. Nathan Green, known locally as Uncle Nearest, was the enslaved man that taught Jack Daniels how to distill. While Jack Daniels is still a present brand, the history of its roots were forgotten, until an article in the NYT piqued the interest of Fawn Weaver. Fawn went on a journey to honor the legacy of Uncle Nearest by starting a distillery, launching in 2017. Since 2017, Uncle Nearest has released many different whiskies and opened their distillery doors to the public. The distillery sits on over 400 acres of land in Shelbyville, Tennessee, featuring the world’s longest continuous bar at their onsite bar named the Humble Baron. With a recent valuation of $900 million, their fearless leader Fawn Weaver is sharing her expertise of growing a brand with smaller ventures. In 2021, she started Uncle Nearest Venture Fund inspired by the Black Wall Street of Tulsa, Oklahoma. The fund has invested in brands like Equaino, Sorel, and Du Nord Distillery. It’s hard to go wrong with any of the Uncle Nearest whiskies, as collectively the represent some of the most award winning whiskies in the world.

 Freeland Spirits is about celebration, so join us this month as we celebrate these brands representing a minority in our industry and creating delicious spirits. Representation matters. At Freeland Spirits, we have seen the effect our presence has had in our community, and we know that experience translates into other communities as well. When we first started, one percent of the world's distilleries were owned and operated by women. Since then, that number has doubled. Representation in spirits has a snowball effect, building and building, making more and more amazing spirits along the way.

- Molly Troupe; Master Distiller at Freeland Spirits 


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