Taste of Black Spirits event puts a spotlight on Black-owned brands

Melody Baetens
The Detroit News

Correction: This story was updated to correct that the first Taste of Black Spirits event happened in Detroit. 

There's a party this month that aims to raise awareness and appreciation for Black-owned spirits, beer and wine brands. 

Detroit's Lazar Favors of Black Spirits Legacy and Dia Simms of Pronghorn — a new business that focuses on expanding diversity, equity and inclusion within the beverage alcohol industry nationally — have teamed up with the Garden Theater for Taste of Black Spirits on Feb. 19.

"It's really informative, I like to engage with people. It's a lot of conversation and it's a lot of education," said Favors of the event, which he says will have a "laidback" vibe. "You'll get to talk to some of the founders and owners of different brands there." 

Lazar Favors of Black Spirits Legacy at a previous Taste of Black Spirits event.

The tasting event will focus on the history of Black cocktail pioneers, such as pre-Prohibition era bartender Tom Bullock, author of "The Ideal Bartender," and R.R. Bowie and J. Burke Edelin, who founded the Black Mixologist Club in 1989. Guests can sample cocktails from Bullock's 1917 drink guide at the event. 

Michigan brands featured at Taste of Black Spirits include Anteel Tequila, Motu Viget wine and spirits from Grand Rapids, Black Calder Brewing Company, Detroit's Fkng Vodka, Stock da Bar premium vodka and luxury wine brands Opulence Wine and the Roché Collection. 

The first Taste of Black Spirits event happened in May at Detroit's Yum Village with 32 Black-owned brands represented. 

"It was great. I had no idea it was going to be what it was, but I know one thing for sure that that moment took those brands to a higher confidence," said Favors. "This is how we grow." 

The Feb. 19 tasting, which is the fifth Taste of Black Spirits event, is not only a way for brands to be exposed to potential customers but also a networking opportunity to grow distribution.

"I felt it was important to use our Michigan-based, Black-owned brands," said Favors, who is also the beverage director at Yum Village. "They're doing their job here, but it is a task to get distribution anywhere else outside of your own home ... we're trying to make it happen though."

"I think it's important that these brands understand that there are people out here such as Dia and Pronghorn to help elevate awareness to help draw attention to their brands. And not just bring attention, but also help them move into spaces and places where they couldn't do it alone." 

Dia Simms is a co-founder of Pronghorn, which aims to build an initiative focused on bringing a diverse group of spirit makers to the industry; the anchor investor is Diageo alcohol company. Simms is also CEO of Lobos 1707 Tequila & Mezcal and co-owner of Saint Liberty, a line of whiskey that highlights the work women bootleggers did during Prohibition. 

She said Pronghorn plans to invest in at least 57 Black-owned spirit companies during the next 10 years, so being apart of an event like this is "a dream come true." 

"At Pronghorn, what we have set out to do is to build a template on how to diversify any industry," she said, adding, "equity without economics is a fool's errand."

"We want to shore up opportunity, we want to shore up education," she says about the Taste of Black Spirits event, which she and Favors expect 400 people to attend. "You can come, participate, have a great time, be educated about the brands, but then vote with your wallet. Support these owners, ask for it at a liquor store, ask for it at a lounge. Tell a friend ... and be intentional about how you vote with your cash."

"And when you're home, you need to look at your bar, look at your pantry, look at your bookshelf, and think to yourself, does it represent, at just least mathematically, diverse owners? What is owned by Black ownership, what is owned by women?"

Taste of Black Spirits is 6-10 p.m. Feb. 19 at the Garden Theatre, 3929 Woodward in Detroit. Tickets cost $55 and can be purchased in advance via Eventbrite.com

mbaetens@detroitnews.com

Twitter: @melodybaetens

14 Black-owned spirit, beer and wine brands available in Michigan

Anteel Tequila: This company is based in Metro Detroit, but of course the tequila is made in Mexico, using a blend of highland and lowland agave. Anteel, which has won numerous awards, has four varieties: blanco, reposado, coconut lime blanco and blood orange blanco. teeqspirits.com.

Anteel Tequila co-owner Nayana Ferguson

FKNG: A Detroit-based spirit brand — name stands for "For Kings Not Gods" — makes a small batch straight bourbon whiskey and a 100% corn premium vodka. There are plans to make FKNG tequila, rum, gin and cigars in the near future. resistspirits.com.

Lobos 1707: LeBron James is an early backer of this brand, which is run by Dia Simms and was founded by actor Diego Osorio. Lobos 1707 is based in Mexico but its four varieties — extra anjeo, joven, reposado and mezcal — are sold in Michigan. lobos1707.com.

Stock da Bar Vodka: Made in Lansing, founder Daryl Demitrius Reece's vodka is made with Michigan-brown red winter wheat. A portion of proceeds benefit Boys and Girls Club of Benton Harbor, Kalamazoo and Grand Rapids. stockdabar.com.

Uncle Nearest: Tennessee-based whiskey brand Uncle Nearest is named after a formerly enslaved man Nathan Green, who taught Jack Daniel how to distill alcohol. It's said to be the first spirit named after an African American and one of the fastest-growing whiskey brands in the country. Find high-proof Uncle Nearest 1856 premium whiskey, 1884 small batch and the master blend in Michigan. unclenearest.com.

Saint Liberty Bourbon: Another whiskey with a historic connection, Saint Liberty produces spirits that pay homage to women bootleggers from the prohibition era. Co-owner Dia Simms says because women weren't searched by the feds, they had a big role in bootlegging. Saint Liberty Bertie's Bear and Mary's Four Grain straight whiskey and Josephine's straight rye are sold in our state. saintlibertywhiskey.com.

Duke & Dame: Known for making a salted caramel flavored whiskey, Duke & Dame is made in Florida and distributed to Michigan bars, restaurants and party stores. The website offers a variety of cocktail ideas for the 100% corn blend whiskey. dukeanddame.com.

Brough Brothers Distillery: The Brough Brothers are Victor, Bryson and Chris Yarbrough and they started what is said to be Kentucky's first African American-owned distillery. Visit their website for a map of where to find their bourbon in Metro Detroit. broughbrothers.com.

Black Calder Brewing Co. in Grand Rapids is owned by Terry Rostic and Jamaal Ewing.

Black Calder Brewing Company: Believed to be Michigan's first Black-owned craft brewery,  Black Calder made its debut in November 2020 with an IPA. Founded by Michigan natives Terry Rostic and Jamaal Ewing, Black Calder is based in Grand Rapids. blackcalderbrewing.com.

Cajun Fire Brewing Company: Based in Louisiana, this family-owned brewery makes a Cajun Fire Honey Ale that is a Munich-amber style beer brewed with domestic honey, a P-Train Funk Raspberry Milkshake IPA and more. drinkcajunfire.com.

Motu Viget: Celebrate the little things or major moments with this Michigan-made sparkling wine, the inaugural product from this Grand Rapids wine and spirits company. facebook.com/motuvigetspirits.

Opulence Wine: Founded by Dr. LaToya Thompson, this wine brand's motto is “rooted in love, crafted in luxury.” Find wines and accessories like glasses and more on the website. opulencewine.com.

The Roché Collection: A line of premium wine grown in Michigan, this collection is sold widely in stores, including Meijer. Nicole Roché launched the business in 2019 and sells rose, cabernet sauvignon, malbec and more. therochecollection.com.

Black Fire Winery: Owner Michael Wells is believed to be the first Black owner of a commercial winery in Michigan. The family-run winery is based in Tecumseh and produces wines, ciders and beer. blackfirewinery.com.