Black Bourbon Society launches consultancy to foster diversity in drinks

The Black Bourbon Society has revived plans for a non-profit consultancy that seeks to improve diversity in the whiskey industry.

Black Bourbon Society founder Samara Rivers (Photo: BBS)

The Black Bourbon society fist launched its new consultancy, Diversity Distilled in January. Diversity Distilled seeks to improve diversity in the drinks sector in both a top-down and bottom-up approach. It looks after things like job training, and education for POCs who want to work in the spirits sector, and also assists brands in proactively recruiting, retaining and promoting a diverse workforce both internally and across executive leadership teams.

The coronavirus pandemic and subsequent lockdowns across the US forced the industry group to delay announcing the launch, and its plans to host the Diversity Distilled Spirits Conference. As such, little has been said of the consultancy in the first half of the year.

However, the project was officially launched in the wake of widespread protests after the death of George Floyd at the hands of a police officer in Minneapolis, Minnesota, last month.

In a statement on the society’s Instagram profile, Samara Rivers, CEO and founder of Black Bourbon Society, and Armond Davis, COO of Black Bourbon Society, said that the company has “created collaborative content and programming through our social media platforms and curated events and experiences that facilitated genuine engagement between Bourbon brands and our membership throughout the country.

“We have also provided valuable insight on our demographic that dispels marketing stereotypes that the brands once relied on to create their marketing and target audience strategies. We are extremely proud of the progress that BBS [Black Bourbon Society] has made in its advocacy but know that we’ve only scratched the surface of tackling the historic and systematic issues of implicit bias, racism, diversity and inclusion within the spirits industry.”


The announcement comes after the society condemned the lack of American whiskey producers pledging to support African-Americans and POCs following the protests.

Drinks companies have shown varying degrees of support for POCs this month, from opening up their facilities as first aid drop-off points for protesters, to donating to specific community funds.

Johnnie Walker owner Diageo has pledged US$20 million to help black communities and businesses in the US that have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis, and so far, more than 700 breweries worldwide have joined a collaboration brewing project to raise money for causes such as Black Lives Matter.

However, Rivers said the lack of overt support from whiskey distillers “has not gone unnoticed”.

Rivers also shone a light on the role black Americans have played in building the US whiskey industry, despite very few ever gaining leadership roles.

“We have made your barrels. We have built your rickhouses. We have harvested your corn. We have bottled your product. We have played every role except one of leadership to make this industry what it is today. And even with that we purchase (and collect) your products, we visit your distilleries, and we use our influence to share our love for bourbon and American whiskey with our families, friends and networks.

“Your silence over the past two weeks has not gone unnoticed.”

You can read the full statement here.

In light of the protests, the Black Bourbon Society said: “As mentioned in our recent ‘Open Letter to the Bourbon Industry’, we know that advocacy simply isn’t enough these days. Not only are we committed to using our platform and influence to insist the brands be more diverse and inclusive, but we are also dedicated to providing the solution to the problem.

“With your support, we are confident that Black Bourbon Society, along with the new vision and mission of Diversity Distilled Inc, will bring forth the necessary change we insist the spirits industry make.”

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