Celeste Beatty founder of Harlem Brewing at the Annual Cassoulet cook off With Chef Consortium in Brooklyn, December 2019. Photo credit: Celeste Beatty's Facebook page

Hops Life: Black women brewmasters, winemakers and spirits cultivators

Drink responsibly and consciously this summer and for the holiday seasons. We’re back with another list of wines, beers and spirits by really awesome Black women.

When the world shutdown in 2020, then the US drenched itself in months of political fires, one of the silver linings was the need to support more Black businesses. For the first time, Black women in the alcoholic beverage industry were being sought out in droves. Now, as we approach the summer and all of the festivities that go with it, as we are back outdoors, what a great way to host an event or lounge in your yard with a spirit, wine or beer from a company that is either fully-or-partially owned by Black women. Hope you run across one of these and try them out.

Hops Life + Wine Me Downs + Liquid Spirits

 
Marvina S. Robinson Stuyvesant Champagne. Photo credit: Malcolm J. Williams

STUYVESANT CHAMPAGNE

Where Brooklyn at? The champagne business is not only mainly white, but also a male-dominated sphere. Until Marvina S. Robinson applied her a Notorious B.I.G. philosophy of “busting in the door” instead of waiting outside for permission to enter. Now, Robinson, a Norfolk State University and Columbia University graduate, left Wall Street to launch a champagne line. Like Celeste Beatty of Harlem Brewing, Robinson named her champagne venture, Stuyvesant Champagne, after her hometown of Bedford-Stuyvesant, a neighborhood in Brooklyn. What’s up with these New York women? What’s in the water?

So let’s talk about how hard it is to get a champagne brand. The favorite grown folks celebratory beverage is really sparkling wine from Champagne, a province in the northeast part of France. You must have special permission to even call your French sparkling wine, champagne. While many try, few are successful, but Robinson made it happen. At first, the former financier was discouraged by France’s official champagne committee. But the “all-about-the-business” Robinson procured a distributors agreement in 11 months. With a modest-sized company, sales increased sharply during the pandemic. Now she’s managing her growth.

Nayana Ferguson of Anteel Tequila out of Detroit. Photo credit: Maddi Ibanez

ANTEEL TEQUILA

What goes well with Taco Tuesday? Tequila Tuesday. That’s where Nayana Ferguson, one half of the award-winning Anteel Tequila comes in pouring drinks. A fairly new brand using traditional techniques, Anteel twice-distills aged agave plants, of which tequila is made. Part of a wife-husband team, Ferguson, who is the COO and a proud cancer-survivor, oversees the operations of the three lines they carry: blanco, coconut-lime and reposado. Based out of the Detroit, the couple works with the Mexican distillery, Destiladora del Valle de Tequila.

Tiffany Capri Hainesworth of TCapri Tequila.

TCAPRI TEQUILA

Good shots are hard to find. That’s why I choose TCapri Tequila by Tiffany Hainesworth. The Native DC resident now living in Maryland made history after becoming the first Black woman to be the sole owner of a tequila brand. The former federal employee wanted “something different, something fun” after a car accident. So, Hainesworth took a bet, and I mean a huge bet on herself. She trekked to one of the most notorious cities in Mexico to locate a distillery. While in Guadalajara, she found and forged a partnership with artisan tequila distillers, Tequila el Tepozan SA de CV, and Master Tequilero, Carlos Padilla. Using local blue Weber agave, the tequila is made with harvested piñas that are roasted in traditional brick ovens then gradually fermented then filtrated, distilled, and finally bottled.

Krista Scruggs of Zafa Wines. Photo credit: Zafa’s Instagram page

ZAFA WINES

In Isle La Motte, Vermont, Krista Scruggs is breaking the mold, the barrel and the expectations of cider and winemakers with her Zafa Wines. With a current  three sparkling wines, three canned wines, ciders, and a cider-wine blend which is in collaboration with CO Cellars, Scruggs uses indigenous fermentation practices to brew her extensive offerings. Scruggs and her farm, also named Zafa is on the Black Farmers Index too.

CHAMPAGNE MARIE-CÉSAIRE

Back to champagne, Marie-Inès Romelle is the first woman of color in Europe to have their own champagne lable. Born on the French-Caribbean on the island of Guadeloupe then immigrated to France, Romelle’s ancestors were one of those who ironically provided the sugar needed for champagne making regions in France to launch and dominate the industry of sparkling wine. But her life to get where she is was not a bottle of fine bubbly.

A high school drop out who left school after dealing with the grief of losing her father, Romelle was a single mother by the age of 18. Eventually, she would go to college then graduate school. While obtaining her MBA from the University of Reims, she met a winemaker from Ecuiel who took her on as a mentee. Gradually, Romelle learned the art of winemaking, and even developed her own grape blends, flavor profiles, and aging techniques. Champagne Marie-Césaire was birth in partnership with her brother, Jaïro. The name is an ode to her parents. So, every bottle you sip, an ancestor is attached to it.

Nichole Johnson, is the CEO of Rusty Rabbits and has put out the second champagne brand owned by a Black woman: Lapin Rouillé. Photo credit: Johnson’s Facebook page.

LAPIN ROUILLÉ

London’s Nichole Johnson is focused on creating a beveage empire. Her first wine to make it to the US is Lapin Rouillé, which translates to “rusty rabbit” in French. Johnson’s cuvée is 100% Pinot Meunier from Massif de Saint-Thierry, Reims. The cuvée is blend of “exotic fruit, red berries, spring flowers and a pinch of sea salt, coming together with freshness and delicacy,” and the first rollout for Johnson.

Denise Sawadogo of Montclair Brewery. Photo credit: Montclair Brewery Facebook page

MONTCLAIR BREWERY

Denise Ford-Sawadogo is part of Montclair Brewery, a dope husband-wife duo who put a lot of thought in their craft beer, and its meaning. Recently, the honored journalist, merican television reporter and professor, Gil Noble, who was known for his powerful show “Tell It Like It Is,” that explored Black life and issues. Opened since 2018, the Sawodogo’s microbrewery serve a lively community in New Jersey.

 

 

LOVE CORK SCREW

Based in Chicago, Love Cork Screw is the brainchild of serial entrepreneur and wine enthusiast, Chrishon Lampley. Leveraging her successful run of an art gallery noted more for its wine selection than its art, she convinced investors for start up capital to launch her wine company. Fusing her artistic bones with the masterful palette of vino, she brokered a deal to start Love Cork Screw, which has been kicking ass since 2014.

From her company’s roots, Lampley has entered into partnerships resulting in a cookbook called, “Your Guide to Tasteful Manners,” and the latest collection of candles available at Target. From white and red table wines to refreshing rosés, rieslings and sauvignons, her stash carries hip-hop and Black pop culture inspired names. Definitely with all of Lampley’s creations, it helps me on date night. My wife approves.

OLÉ ORLEANS

If you’ve been to the bottom, the boot, the gumbo rich Crescent City called New Orleans, you know that a good alcoholic drink is almost a requirement. So it’s good that Kim Lewis was named as the first Black woman to launch a wine company from there.

Called Olé Orleans, the company’s inspiration comes to celebrate the historic New Orleans, which is rapidly leaving post-Katrina gentrification and redevelopment. Lewis, a mother of three children, started the company in 2018. Currently, she has two wines available—Blanc Du Bois-Dry and Blanc Du Blanc-Semi Sweet—with nine more on the way. 

Teo Hunter and Beny Medina in front of famous Miracle Theater in Inglewood. Recently they put out two beers: BPLB, a hazy IPA and a West Coast IPA, stout, and pilsner. Photo crdit from the Martha Stewart website that was courtesy of Crown & Hops.

CROWN & HOPS

My wife being from Los Angeles, I always enjoy the strong and present craft brew scene along with Taco Tuesday. But had was glaringly obvious was the lack of representation from the millions of African Americans who indulge in southern California’s beer culture. The time for a Los Angeles-based beer company was so urgent that when Teo Hunter and Beny Asher of Crown & Hops launched a crowd-funding campaign to start a company in Inglewood, it received massive support. In their efforts, they raised $70 thousand, but experienced a roadblock that many modest entrepreneurs and families face as Inglewood became the city for Los Angeles Rams—rising prices in a gentrifying city. Some tough negotiations and several years later, Hunter and Asher’s beautifully canned beers pop up across the California basin.

 

Ntsiki Biyela of Aslina Wines. Photo credit: Ntsiki Biyela Facebook

ASLINA WINES

After over a decade in the wine industry as the first Black woman winemaker in South Africa, Ntsiki Biyela decided to branch out on her own in 2016. Aslina Wines, a company named after her mother, has been creating great bottles of chardonnay, sauvignon blanc, cabernet sauvignon and Bordeaux blend. To affirm her brilliance and work, in 2018, Aslina Wines Umsasane won a gold medal at the Michaelangelo International Wine and Spirits awards.

FOU-DRÉ

Noted as the youngest woman to start her own spirit company, Chanel Turner, a former Bowie State basketball star, wanted to create a vodka catering to women. After testing over 80 formulas, she partnered with a distillery in South Carolina to conjure up Fou-Dré.

Foudré means, lightning in French. Also, the company’s name is a play on the southern moniker of strong clear beverages aptly called, white lightning. With eleven years behind her company, her vodka can be purchased online. Or, if you’re in the Washington DC area and Atlanta, multiple stores carry Fou-Dré.

Facebook page of Charles Wine Co.

CHARLES WINE CO.

Launching their first label in 2014, the journey of Paul Charles, De’Ondre Charles and Dr. Cherise Moore started with a wine tasting tour in Temecula, California, a wine country region in Southern California. Now, the Charles Wine Co, the family-owned winery produces 500 cases a year. One of the recent selections is Melanin, a pinot noir released in 2019. Grab some.

DAVIDSON WINE CO.

Owned by former corporate lawyer turned winemaker, Lindsey Williams, produces an impressive list of over 35 varieties at Davidson Wine Company. By sourcing grapes locally and globally, they make a range of cabernets to pinotages and ports. To help address the lack of diversity in winemakers, Williams partnered with Shayla Varnado of  Black Girls Wine, a collective of women who love to indulge in wine and sisterhood. The social circle works to curate meaningful events providing spaces to grow relationships and their appreciation for vino.

Another thing to check out is their dope brick and mortar, located in historic Davidson, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte. At the winery, enjoy a range of wine tastings, and complementary events such as chocolate pairings and a nice selection of social events.

THEOPOLIS VINEYARDS

Another lawyer-turned-winemaker, Theodora R. Lee has almost two decades of grape skins in the game with Theopolis Vineyards. Lee, who is called the “Theo-Patra of wines,” earned respect throughout the winemaking industry as a small, yet superb winemaker who has garnered dozens of awards for her yearly selections. Most recently, her rosé petite sirah won third place in San Francisco’s International wine competition

Established in 2003, this Bay Area counselor moved to San Francisco from Texas in 1987. Soon, she sipped her way into the local wine culture. Fresh from taking viticulture classes at UC Davis, in 2001, Lee bought sheep land in the Yorkville Highlands of Anderson Valley in the greenthumb region of Mendocino County. Like several of the wineries on this list, you can join the vineyards wine club to get first dibs on a wonderful selection of pinot noirs, petite sirahs, rosés, and symphony wines, which are currently sold out.

UNCLE NEAREST

In Tennessee, there has been an open secret marinating in the whiskey barrels of the state since the 1850s. In fact, this is throughout most of Colonial America: slaves made spirits. 

For whiskey makers in Tennessee, this falls in line with their history too. To unpack and start whiskey reparations, Fawn Weaver uncovered the history of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the spirits master who provided the formula and distillery techniques to make the famous Jack Daniels whiskey.

Jack Daniel, an orphan born around Lynchburg, Tennessee was taught by Green, a slave who was commonly called, Uncle Nearest. Daniel used the formula to grow a global empire, ironically, that is a favorite spirit amongst African Americans. Sadly, Green never owned any of the Jack Daniels empire nor received credit by Daniel, but Green’s descendants worked at the distillery, even to this day.

Thankfully, Weaver is changing that narrative with Uncle Nearest, a premium whiskey brand that uses Green’s original formulas. Her project is in conjunction with the Green family efforts and blessing.

There is no known photo of Nathan ‘Uncle Nearest’ Green. Historians have recovered a photo is his son, George, with Jack Daniels to the left of him.

Several years ago, Weaver secured $20 million in investments and is in the midst of renovating a horse farm into the first major whiskey or spirit brand owned by a woman, Black person, or person of color in the US. Since the company’s offering of its selection of premium aged whiskies, it has already won over 75 awards including being named one of the best whiskies in the world by Whisky Magazine’s 2019 World Whiskies Awards.

BROWN ESTATE

I spoke about Brown Estate in the entry, but let me add that they have a special wine called, Betelgeuse, like the star, and not the movie. It is one of the best white wines you’ll taste. Plus their showroom, situated in beautiful mountainside, and the cellar walk through, including how they created the winery is worth the visit. Or, you can go to their downtown location which opened a couple of years ago.

P. HARRELL WINES

Bay Area professional, Paula Harrell transferred her career in real estate and mortgage finance to a quaint wine selection of zinfandel, rose and riesling. To mix up both professions, Harrell gives real estate and wine tasting events or finance and vino gatherings. Located in Oakland, check out her regular shindigs for P. Harrell Wines.

DARJEAN JONES WINES

An idea fermenting for years in the mind of Louisiana native, Dawna Darjean Jones, the wine brand named after its proprietor, Darjean Jones, offers eight selections from Napa Valley grapes.

HH BESPOKE

For the creators of HH Bespoke, their selection of rum, gin and vodka was a natural transition from the famed fashion boutique created in Harlem. As purveyors of Harlem cool and swank, the spirit line compliments a lifestyle that comes out of the Black Mecca that dates back to the early 1900s. During a time when local Black natives, migrant Blacks then immigrant Blacks coexisted to create a mixture of global flyness, HH Bespoke keeps it funky.

Try one of their spirits with one of their cocktails: Harlem Walk, Southside Harlem, or Corpse Reviver.

 

MCBRIDE SISTERS

Who can argue with a line of wines called, Black Girl Magic? The McBride Sisters, Robin and Andréa, have as much of a fascinating familial story as their wines. Being the largest Black-owned winery in the US, the half-sisters found out about each other in the middle of their lives. Sharing the same father, Kelly McBride, they were united by the efforts of their patrilineal side after he passed away from cancer in 1996.

Ironically, they both shared strong interests in the wine industry and were both reared in wine country regions—Robin in Monterey, California and Andréa in New Zealand.  That story alone is serious Black magic all the way around.

Black Girl Magic is just one of their selections that goes beyond a wonderful list of rosé, red blend and riesling. In turn, the sisters brought together their wine preferences from Central Coast Cali and NZ to create a perfect mashup to create the McBride Sisters collection. As well, they started a wine-inna-can collection, SHE CAN, inspired by single mothers, like theirs.

To augment the wines in cans, they added an initiative to provide professional development for women in the wine industry from SHE CAN proceeds.

TASTE COLLECTION CELLARS

Owned by Chef Rhonda Russell, Taste Collection Cellars is comprised of an artisanal collection of wines representing a mélange of grapes from the northern portion of California’s Central Valley. Chef Rhonda is a certified wine sommelier and executive chef.

Stacked pile of old wooden whisky barrels

FRESH BOURBON DISTILLERY

Waiting to break ground on a $5.4 million, 34, 000 square foot production facility in Lexington, Kentucky’s Distillery District, husband-and-wife, Sean and Tia Edwards founded, Fresh Bourbon Distillery. With an African American bourbon maker working with them to create a local, signature taste, the Edwards are inching towards being the largest African-American owned distillery in the state of Kentucky. Expect to see their whisky, Fresh Bourbon, in late 2020.

FRICHETTE WINERY

A family owned venture founded by Greg and Shea Frichette, is based in Washington state. Frichette Winery offers a limited production, but great list of wines that showcase vineyards and farms dedicated to producing impeccable grapes for wine-making from the Pacific Northwest. As a sucker for reds, they have an impressive list of merlots, cabernet sauvignon, and Malbec . Sip on one in their dapper tasting room.

DOMAINE CURRY

One thing I have to give to Ayesha Curry, is that she is determined to carve out an indelible niche in the food and beverage industry. A couple of years ago, she partnered with her sister-in-law, Sydel to create Domaine Curry. A modest, but hearty collection of Napa Valley wines, the varieties speak to the femme spirit and entrepreneurial moxie of the Curry family.

LOOK VODKA

A new vodka on the market launched by Carmelita Hilliard in 2018 caters to the Black hip millennials. Hilliard, a DC Native, wanted to make a vodka brand that catered to a segment of the vodka-drinking sector that was largely ignored—minority women. So, she partnered with a local distillery to create Look Vodka. Right now, her brand is in the DMV area, but if you’re there, pass up the Cîroc and pick up a bottle.

Celeste Beatty at brewing facility. Photo credit: Harlem Brewery website

HARLEM BREWING COMPANY + HARLEM BREW SOUTH

To the hardest working woman in beer, Celeste Beatty, who is the first African American woman to own and operate her own brewery. As an ode to her hometown, the Harlemite who runs Harlem Brewing Company has been crafting delicious batches of craft beer such as Harlem Sugar Hill Golden Ale, Harlem Renaissance Wit, Harlem 125 IPA and Harlem Strawberry Hard Cider for over two decades. As she grew, she implemented the 19th Century Race women philosophy, “Build as we climb” by helping other small batch brewers and wines launch or expand their lines.

Several years ago, Beatty decided to expand her New York beer company by going back to her roots. Harlem Brew South began as a satellite extension of Harlem Brewing Company, producing small batches in Rocky Mount, North Carolina. But, in 2020, Beatty and her brothers, Carl and Pernell saw the need to establish a black-owned craft beer presence in one of the country’s beer deserts. So she bet on herself, and the budding Black community to create a taproom and brewery that also offers an 8-week program teaching those interested in making their own local beer. 

Scheduled to open this summer, the Beatty’s have been busy for months building their taproom and brewery. Their goal is to provide a template for others to model in order to flood all of these beer deserts. For now, buy a great beer from her company. Currently, Beatty is featuring the Queen Chocolate Coffee Stout with Cinnamon, a beer honoring  her mother, Rachel Patterson Beatty Jackson.

LS CREAM LIQUEUR

Using a family recipe from Haiti for the rich milk-based “kremas or crémas,” Myriam Jean-Baptiste and her partner Stevens Charles, are behind another award-winning beverage, LS Cream Liqueur. In Haiti, the creamy alcoholic treat is usually served during social events and the holidays. The key ingredients to the 5-medal winner are coconut, vanilla, cinnamon and nutmeg.

RHYTHM BREWING CO.

With so many craft beers popping up, Alisa Bowens-Mercado still saw a hole in the market. Her exciting beer venture, Rhythm Brewing, was birthed out of the need to offer more unfiltered Lagers. So she did it with a twist. Bowens-Mercado uses South African hops to brew modern American-style lagers. The only Black-woman owned beer company in Connecticut, Bowens-Mercardo is situated in New Haven.

Duane Reed focuses on the market and currency. Sometimes he dibble dabbles in travel, lifestyle and news.

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