Of all the drinks I’ve heard people say they love, bourbon hasn’t been at the top of the list. In fact, when I asked my husband if he liked or knew a lot of people who enjoyed the spirit, he responded, “that’s a white people drink.”
However, there are a growing number of Black people who are falling in love with the aged whiskey, and in turn, changing the spirits industry by making sure Black whiskey drinkers are being seen, celebrated and most importantly, marketed to.
Someone leading the pack to make that happen is Samara Rivers. She is the creator of a growing bourbon organization called the Black Bourbon Society. She created BBS after she became a fan of the whiskey and noticed that there wasn’t much marketing happening towards people of color. The organization, which has amassed over 10,000 thousand followers, has partnered with high-profile whiskey brands like Wild Turkey, Maker’s Mark and Four Roses. It has also launched popular exclusive events, including curated dinner pairings and whiskey tastings in cities like Atlanta, Los Angeles and Chicago. People network, sip, and have a good time with fellow bourbon enthusiasts.
We spoke with the founder to get a better understanding of where her love for bourbon came from, how that motivated her to launch BBS, and the importance of having Black people, women specifically, making waves in the spirits industry. Check out what she had to say.
MadameNoire: When did you first get into drinking bourbon?
Samara Rivers: I started drinking bourbon back in 2016 as a way to connect with my husband (now ex-husband). I fell in love with the flavors of the spirit and gained an appreciation of the distillation and aging process of it. My love for bourbon grew on a family trip to New Orleans upon taking the suggestion of a salesman who introduced me to his favorite spirit. I became an instant fan of it and spent every Friday for an entire year creating and mixing new cocktails with bourbon. It was something I shared within my network locally in Oakland and across the country via social media.
How did that expand into you having interest in founding the Black Bourbon Society?
After realizing that there was very little direct consumer marketing geared towards people of color in the spirits industry. I wanted to create awareness surrounding African-American professionals that highlighted our love for premium spirits and luxury products. I wanted to show that we have access to high disposable income and have a huge buying power within the bourbon industry. And thus, Black Bourbon Society was created.
How important is it to have women, and Black women specifically, taking up space in the spirits industry?
The truth is, there are very few Black women in key leadership positions in this industry. Our voices and perspectives are often not heard — as women and as African Americans. We provide valuable insight into a consumer base that is quickly becoming a trend in the industry so the more voices and insight, the better off this industry will be in marketing to women and consumers of color.
What kind of events do you put on with Black Bourbon Society?
We partner with the spirits industry to produce events in several markets across the country. We also have ambassadors in select cities that produce networking events for our members. Our annual meetup, Bourbon Boule, is always held in New Orleans over Labor Day weekend and we curate luxury distillery trips to Louisville twice a year. Due to COVID-19, we’ve increased our online presence to provide virtual events twice a week. Whiskey Weekly is a show we produce with a live audience. It’s a candid conversation with brand owners and master distillers and a live whiskey tasting. We also have our virtual happy hour, BYOB Happy Hour, every Friday night at 6 p.m. EST.
With more than 10,000 members already, what are your hopes for BBS in the near future?
My hope has always been that we be seen as “the face” of African-American consumers — not only for whiskey and all spirits, but in lifestyle. Our unique demographic represents an untapped audience for all brands to acknowledge and respect. As we continue to grow, I look forward to unique partnerships, more engaging events online and in person, and more networking between our members at Bourbon Boule and through our exclusive trips to Louisville.