Drinks Innovators of the Year

This new annual accolade from Food & Wine highlights the extraordinary creativity and ambition — practical, social, cultural, and beyond — that’s going on in the drinks space right now. Taken together, the Drinks Innovators, eight individuals working in the wine, spirits, beer, and non-alcoholic beverage realm, illustrate where the entire drinks industry is going. And they all have products that consumers can get their hands on right now. This is what the future tastes like.

The history of drinks is a history of innovation. Someone, after all, had to discover fermentation in the first place — roughly 9,000 years ago, in fact, in the Yellow River Valley in China, when some early genius put rice, honey, and hawthorn fruit in a pot and was pleasantly surprised by the results. But what about innovation today?

For our first annual Food & Wine Drinks Innovators of the Year, we combed the ranks of brewers, winemakers, and distillers to single out eight people who are truly changing the way we drink. But innovation these days doesn't necessarily just mean a new tweak to a process, or a new category of alcoholic (or non-alcoholic) beverage. It can also mean exploring new ways to look at how we drink, or paying attention to talents unjustly erased by history, or utilizing approaches to raw materials that take into account the changing environment of our planet. Innovation isn't necessarily just technical; it can also be social. After all, we don't enjoy our favorite beverages in a vacuum.

But of course the liquid itself has to be great, too. So who and what did we find? In Tennessee, Fawn Weaver and Victoria Eady Butler are calling attention to the work of the Black distiller who taught Jack Daniel (yes, that Jack Daniel) his trade in the 1800s, with their excellent Uncle Nearest 1856 American Whiskey. In Los Angeles, Morgan McLachlan of Amass is breaking conventions about botanicals in vodkas, gins and — even more intriguingly — non-alcoholic distilled drinks. Brooklyn's Jackie Summers fought back from his distillery's destruction in the winds and flooding of Hurricane Sandy to bring Sorel, his liqueur-like recreation of a traditional Jamaican drink, to bars across the country.

Wondering what NFTs might have to do with wine, or what a virtual winery might look like (or even be)? Welcome to the far-ranging mind of Massican owner and winemaker Dan Petroski. Want to try some of the best artisanal mezcal in the world, which happens to be from a family-owned company spearheaded by someone who's fought fiercely for recognition for women in the Mezcal world? Real Minero is the Mezcal; Graciela Ángeles Carreño is the innovator. 

Love beer, hate the buzz, and despairing of finding an n/a beer that remotely recalls the actual stuff? Talk to Bill Shufelt at Athletic Brewing (seriously: their Run Wild IPA makes other n/a beers embarrassed at their own existence). And at Tablas Creek in California's Paso Robles wine region, Jason Haas is making world-class Rhône style whites and reds even as he's at the forefront of regenerative agriculture in the wine space, an approach that combines the best practices of organic viticulture with the socially responsible aspects (fair treatment of workers, reduction of carbon footprint, animal welfare) of sustainability in its best form.

We're thrilled at the work these talents have been doing. And we're not shy about saying that we think they're helping change the world for the better — while at the same time making some of the most delicious drinks we've ever tried.

Uncle Nearest

Portrait of Fawn Weaver
Portrait of Victoria Eady Butler
Left: Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson
Right: Credit: Eric Ryan Anderson

Uncle Nearest CEO Fawn Weaver and master blender Victoria Eady Butler are carving out an ever-growing space for Black female voices in the whiskey world. Read more.

Massican

Portrait of Dan Petroski
Credit: Cadet Wine & Beer

Napa's iconoclastic winemaker sees the future of the Massican brand in vermouth, beer, body products, gin, coffee, a magazine, emojis, NFTs, virtual vineyards, and beyond. Read more.

Amass

Portrait of Morgan McLachlan
Credit: Cara Robbins

The Amass master distiller and chief product officer draws inspiration from botanicals to create nonalcoholic, beauty, and cannabis products to create "the ideal 21st century bar cart." Read more.

Athletic Brewing Co.

Portrait of Bill Shufelt
Credit: Athletic Brewing Co.

The bold, true-to-craft flavors of Athletic beers have helped overhaul the NA category's reputation, erasing decades-old stigmas one six-pack after another. Read more.

Tablas Creek Vineyard

Portrait of Jason Haas
Credit: Tablas Creek Vineyard

The Tablas Creek proprietor is using regenerative organic methods to make great wines, and help fight climate change while he's at it. Read more.

Real Minero

Portrait of Graciela Ángeles Carreño
Credit: Anna Bruce

Fifth-generation mezcal producer Real Minero is the forefront of a group of grower-distillers who market their own products and who are never shy about trying a new direction or fighting for what they believe in. Read more.

Sorel

Portrait of Jackie Summer
Credit: Clay Williams

Despite tremendous obstacles, the writer, educator, advocate, and Sorel creator made his dreams come true, and now he's using that success to lend a hand to others. Read more.