$50 Million Fund Launched to Invest in Minority-Owned Spirits Brands
Many of the best-known whiskey brands are named after white men: Jack Daniel's, Jim Beam… In 2018, Scotch brand Johnnie Walker even introduced Jane Walker whisky to address the gender inequity. In the U.S., Fawn Weaver—a Black woman—has taken an independent approach: In 2017, she launched Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, named in honor of the world's first known African-American master distiller, Nearest Green. Green even taught Jack Daniel how to distill. And now Weaver is looking to make history of her own by using her success to help fund $50 million in minority-owned spirits brands.
Yesterday, in an announcement timed to the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Race Massacre, Weaver announced the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund: a $50 million fund "created to invest in minority (BIPOC and women) founded, owned and led brands with the greatest potential to grow into long-standing legacy brands." Uncle Nearest—which reportedly has sold nearly 1.5 million bottles since its launch, making it America's fastest-growing whiskey brand—will contribute, but so will a diverse group of other investors. The fund's board of directors includes current and former executives from companies such as Sony Pictures Entertainment, Google, and Jack Daniel's maker Brown-Forman.
"On June 1, 1921, an entire community of wealthy and successful African Americans was wiped out in a matter of hours. We are talking about 35 square blocks known as Black Wall Street," Weaver explained. "As an African American, learning about that history broke my heart because we, as a people, were really onto something in Tulsa, Oklahoma. We were lifting one another up and creating wealth within our own community, and then showing others how to do it for themselves. We cannot go back and undo the past, but I do believe we have full power over our future, and that recreating a Black Wall Street of sorts within the spirits industry is a great place to start."
And start they have: The fund already announced its first two ventures. The London-based brand Equiano, billed as "the world's first Afro-Caribbean rum," and Jack From Brooklyn, described as "the first-known Black-owned distillery in America post Prohibition," will both receive $2 million each.
Jack From Brooklyn, which was originally launched back in 2012, serves as an excellent example of why this fund was launched. Founder Jackie Summers says an inability to secure additional funding was her biggest stumbling block to success. But now, the company's signature product—Sorel Liqueur—is slated to return this summer as an exclusive offering on ReserveBar.com.
"Most people don't know how expensive it is to create and grow a premium spirit brand in America," Summers stated in the announcement. "I wasn't willing to compromise on the quality and I did everything I could to raise the money to keep Sorel alive, including pitching the brand to the CEOs of some of the most well-known spirit conglomerates. Every single one turned me down. Many do not know this, but I went homeless for about 18 months as I pounded the pavement to continue growing my business. I never gave up because I knew it was special and that one day, someone would be willing to invest in it and in me. The moment the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund agreed to do so, we were ready—we'd only been waiting on capital."
Weaver told the New York Times that she hopes to bring similar stories to other brands. "Fund-raising is all about relationships," she was quoted as saying. "If you don't have those relationships, only a tiny fraction of people pitching investors will see funding." Speaking of which, Weaver herself appears to still be seeking investors: She said she plans to close the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund by the end of the month.