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September 20, 2023 kentuckyblackbourbonguild

Kayla Bush is one of the most tenacious individuals you’ll ever meet, according to Rob Beatty, the founder of the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild. And she’s the perfect example of why his organization exists.

Bush is a full-time student at Kentucky State University majoring in journalism and mass communications with a certificate in distillation and fermentation. She’s also an intern at Buffalo Trace Distillery, where she scours the archives for stories of African American contributions to Kentucky’s signature industry.

Bush joined the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild at the suggestion of one of her professors. She said the group opened her eyes to the contributions African Americans have made to the development of bourbon through the centuries, and the Guild has helped her make professional connections. “It’s been a really cool experience and learning path,” Bush said. “I learn something new every time we link up.”

This was the kind of outcome Beatty hoped for when he founded the Guild in 2018. The Guild’s goal is to educate minority consumers about bourbon and the essential role people of color have played in the industry’s development. Since its founding, Guild membership has grown, and so has the organization’s impact and reach. Funded by major partnerships across multiple sectors, the Guild funds scholarships for minority students who are entering the fermenting and distilling professions. Members enjoy quarterly tours with master distillers and founders, monthly tastings with brands, and much more.

Beatty said the organization welcomes all comers to honor the past, learn more about bourbon, and prepare the next generation of minority leaders in the industry. “We’ve got neurosurgeons; we have students and everything in between,” he said of the Guild membership. “We have all education levels; we have all colors. We’re just a very welcoming group—it’s about the community.”

Honoring the Past

A primary impetus for founding the group, Beatty said, was educating the public about the essential role African Americans have played in the development of the bourbon industry from its beginning. Members say it’s working. “I’ve really enjoyed learning a lot about the African American contribution to the bourbon industry,” said Guild member Latrice Anderson, a nurse and principal partner of Oasis Mobile Hydration.

One story Anderson mentioned is that of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the enslaved master distiller who taught Jack Daniels the whiskey-making craft. While Green’s contribution is well-documented, the bourbon industry only recently has begun to recognize him as a trailblazer in American whiskey.

In 2017, entrepreneur Fawn Weaver honored Green’s legacy by founding Uncle Nearest, a distillery based in Shelbyville, Tennessee. According to Forbes magazine, the distillery’s Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is “the best-selling African American-founded spirit brand of all time.” The distillery is also a partner of the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild. When the Guild launched on Dec. 19, 2018, its first tasting for members and potential members featured Uncle Nearest whiskey. (See page 13 for a recipe that features Uncle Nearest whiskey as a key ingredient.)

“Being a member … has really opened my eyes to even more African American contributions to the bourbon industry,” Anderson said.

The Guild recently partnered with Castle & Key Distillery near Frankfort to create a five-year special whiskey release called The Untold Story of Kentucky Whiskey. Chapter 1, which was released last year, featured historical content on the label developed in partnership with the Guild. Bottle sales benefited a diversity in distilling scholarship created by Castle & Key, and the distillery donated bottles to the Guild to use in fundraising for its own Freddie Johnson Minority Scholarship. This year’s release, Chapter 2, continues the historical narrative with a wheated bourbon. Net proceeds from Chapter 2 will fund the Freddie Johnson Minority Scholarship.

Exploring Bourbon

The Guild isn’t focused only on history; it also has a mission to educate members about bourbon as a beverage. Each month, members enjoy a workshop called the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild Institute of Bourbon Training. Sessions are led by bourbon expert Tim Knittel, the founder of Distilled Living—a company that educates hospitality industry professionals and anyone interested in learning about bourbon—and adjunct professor in Midway University’s bourbon studies program.

“It has definitely exceeded my expectations in terms of being introduced to the different brands and learning how to know the bourbon and figure out a flavor profile,” said Glenda Humphrey George, a Guild member who recently retired from her role as managing attorney for the Lexington-Fayette Urban County Government. “I always appreciate, when brands come to do tastings, that they make sure that they make us aware of any contributions that African Americans have had to their particular brand and then the bourbon industry in general.”

Bush said that she’s learned more about flavor profiles as well as spices and herbs that pair well with bourbon. “That was all brand new to me and a really cool experience,” she acknowledged.

Anderson said the emphasis on learning sets the Guild apart from other bourbon clubs. “We have the educational piece once a month, the distillery tours that we do, the tastings that we do for different brands,” she said. “It’s way more than just the socialization of it—you’re getting a lot more knowledge behind that, too.”

Preparing the Next Generation

Through its Freddie Johnson Minority Scholarship as well as professional connections and industry partnerships, the Guild connects young people to careers in the bourbon industry. Bush said it helped her make connections to land her internship at Buffalo Trace, and she encourages other students to take advantage of what the Guild has to offer. “I just want everybody to know the opportunities that come with it—the fact that you can gain paid internships, the fact that you can build relationships with other professionals that are in the industry and can learn so much about this $8.6 billion industry in Kentucky,” she said.

The Guild’s scholarship honors Freddie Johnson, a third-generation Buffalo Trace employee and Bourbon Hall of Fame inductee.

Johnson, who started working at Buffalo Trace in 2002, traces his lineage much further back. His father, Jimmy Johnson Jr., worked at the distillery alongside famed master distiller Elmer T. Lee. His grandfather, Jimmy Johnson Sr., worked for Col. Albert Blanton at what was then the George T. Stagg distillery. Even as a child, Johnson said, the distillery was his “playground,” and he’s honored to be part of an effort that will help a rising generation.

“We walk this earth, and you never have any idea of the impact that you’re going to have on others,” Johnson said, reflecting on having a scholarship named in his honor. “That’s probably the most humbling piece of this whole thing.”

Beatty has big dreams for the Kentucky Black Bourbon Guild. He wants to create regional chapters, launch a bourbon certificate program, hire a full-time executive director, build and maintain archives, and open a museum.

Hearkening back to Nearest Green, Beatty said the Guild’s focus on Black history is deeply connected to its mission of preparing a new generation to lead. “[Nearest Green] is not only an African American hero; he’s an American hero, based on his contribution and the lineage that he left behind,” Beatty said. “Our pipeline that we build through Kentucky State University, through Buffalo Trace, Pinhook, Fresh Bourbon—that’s continuing to honor that lineage that Uncle Nearest started so long ago.”


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September 16, 2023 kentuckyblackbourbonguild
BY RENA BAERSMILEY PETE PUBLISHING
WHEN LEXINGTON BUSINESS OWNER ROBERT BEATTY WAS THINKING OF ALSO BECOMING A PRIVATE TOUR GUIDE FOR THE STATE OF KENTUCKY, HE GAVE IT A TRIAL RUN BY TAKING A GROUP TO BARDSTOWN FOR THE DAY TO VISIT DISTILLERIES AND ENJOY SOME BOURBON TASTING.
THE GROUP ALSO STOPPED BY THE OSCAR GETZ MUSEUM OF WHISKEY TO TAKE IN SOME HISTORY.
“WHEN WE WALKED IN THE MUSEUM I WAS OVERWHELMED WITH ALL OF THE PHOTOS OF AFRICAN AMERICANS ON THE WALL,” BEATTY SAID. “BUT THERE WERE NO NAMES; THERE WAS NO IDENTIFICATION; THERE WERE NO STORIES. IT INTRIGUED ME BECAUSE I ALSO SAW MANY IMMIGRANTS. IT WAS A COLORFUL WALL.”
HE STARTED TO DO SOME RESEARCH, WHICH EVENTUALLY LED HIM TO FREDDIE JOHNSON, ONE OF BUFFALO TRACE’S MOST POPULAR TOUR GUIDES. JOHNSON’S GRANDFATHER, JAMES B. JOHNSON SR., HAD BEEN THE FIRST AFRICAN AMERICAN WAREHOUSE FOREMAN THERE, RACKING BARRELS, CHECKING THEM FOR LEAKS AND “DUMPING” THE BOURBON INTO THOSE BARRELS TO AGE. HIS SON, JAMES JR., JOINED HIM AT AGE 20, LEARNING TO REPAIR BARRELS WITHOUT DISTURBING THE CONTENTS AND GOING ON TO BECOME A WAREHOUSE SUPERVISOR.
FREDDIE JOHNSON, WHO HAD A KNACK FOR ELECTRICITY, TOOK A MORE CIRCUITOUS PATH, WORKING FOR  AT&T IN NEW YORK CITY FOR YEARS BEFORE COMING BACK TO KENTUCKY AND BUFFALO TRACE TO BE WITH HIS AGING FATHER AND BECOME A TOUR GUIDE AT THE DISTILLERY.
BY THE TIME BEATTY WAS ABLE TO CONNECT WITH JOHNSON, THE ENTREPRENEUR HAD COME UP WITH AN IDEA: HE WANTED TO START A BOURBON GROUP FOCUSED ON (BUT NOT LIMITED TO) AFRICAN AMERICANS, THAT DELVED INTO NOT ONLY LEARNING ABOUT AND TASTING BOURBON BUT ALSO DISCOVERING ITS AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORICAL INFLUENCES AND PULLING OUT THE UNTOLD STORIES. IN ADDITION, HE WANTED THE GROUP TO HAVE A COMMUNITY ELEMENT THAT PROVIDED YOUNG AFRICAN AMERICANS A PATH INTO THE DISTILLING INDUSTRY AND ITS WELL-PAYING JOBS BY OFFERING COLLEGE SCHOLARSHIPS. BEATTY SAID SEVERAL LOCAL BOURBON GROUPS AND JOHNSON PROVIDED REINFORCEMENT FOR THE IDEA.
BEATTY, WHO RUNS A FACILITIES MAINTENANCE COMPANY, SAID HE CAME UP WITH THE NAME BLACK BOURBON GUILD AND PUT TOGETHER A BOARD OF DIRECTORS TO CREATE A NONPROFIT. AT THEIR INAUGURAL EVENT IN NOVEMBER 2018, BEATTY SAID 170 PEOPLE SHOWED UP, AND 20 IMMEDIATELY SIGNED ON AS DUES-PAYING MEMBERS.
“WE HAD AN OVERWHELMING RESPONSE,” SAID BEATTY.
THE SAME NUMBER SHOWED UP FOR THE OFFICIAL LAUNCH A MONTH LATER, DURING WHICH JOHNSON LED THEIR TOUR OF BUFFALO TRACE, DID THEIR TASTING AND PROVIDED SOME HISTORY. SINCE THEN MEMBERSHIP HAS GROWN TO MORE THAN 120.
THROUGH HIS INTEREST IN BOURBON’S HISTORY AND READING, BEATTY SAID HE HAS LEARNED THAT ENSLAVED MEN PLAYED SIGNIFICANT ROLES IN THE HISTORY OF BOURBON DISTILLING. IN FACT, HISTORIANS FOUND THAT IT WAS AN AFRICAN AMERICAN MAN NAMED NATHAN “NEAREST” GREEN, MOST LIKELY ENSLAVED BY OR RENTED TO A FARM OWNER, WHO TAUGHT A CURIOUS YOUNG BOY NAMED JASPER NEWTON (WHO EVENTUALLY BECAME KNOWN AS JACK DANIEL) TO MAKE WHISKEY. WHEN THE RATIFICATION OF THE 13TH AMENDMENT ENDED SLAVERY IN 1865, DANIEL EMPLOYED GREEN’S THREE SONS, AND LATER TWO GRANDSONS, IN MAKING JACK DANIEL’S. GREEN’S NAME AND MEMORY IS NOW COMMEMORATED AT THE NEAREST GREEN DISTILLERY IN LYNCHBURG, TENNESSEE, WHICH PRODUCES THE NEAREST GREEN WHISKEY BRAND.
“WE NOW KNOW THAT AFRICAN AMERICANS WERE MASTER DISTILLERS,” SAID BEATTY. “IF A SLAVE HAD MASTER DISTILLERY SKILLS, HE SOLD FOR MORE. HIS PRICE TAG WENT UP.”
WHAT NAGS AT BEATTY IS THAT THERE ARE MANY OTHER AFRICAN AMERICANS WHO HELPED BUILD THE INDUSTRY WHOSE NAMES ARE UNKNOWN AND STORIES ARE UNTOLD. HE SAID HIS GROUP IS WORKING WITH A HISTORIAN AT KENTUCKY STATE UNIVERSITY, ERIN GILLIAM, WHO HE SAID IS COMBING THROUGH DISTILLERY ARCHIVES AND OLD PHOTOS TO PUT TOGETHER A TIMELINE OF AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND DISCOVER LOST STORIES.
BEATTY SAID HIS GROUP ALSO HAS ALIGNED WITH KSU TO PROMOTE ITS NEW DISTILLATION AND FERMENTATION CERTIFICATION PROGRAM, STEERING STUDENTS IN THAT DIRECTION. THEY ARE ALSO TALKING TO THE UNIVERSITY OF KENTUCKY ABOUT DIVERSITY IN ITS NEW SIMILAR CERTIFICATION PROGRAM.
“ONE OF OUR GOALS IS TO MOVE THAT NEEDLE,” HE SAID. “BOURBON IS AN $8.6 BILLION INDUSTRY IN KENTUCKY, AND AFRICAN AMERICANS ONLY REPRESENT LESS THAN 1 PERCENT OF THE WORKFORCE. IT STARTS WITH EDUCATION.”
IN ADDITION TO TRYING TO BRING HISTORY TO LIGHT AND SUPPORTING EDUCATION, BEATTY SAID THERE ARE MONTHLY SOCIAL EVENTS OR MEETINGS WHERE THE GROUP TOURS DISTILLERIES AND LEARNS ABOUT BOURBON, SUCH AS TASTING, NOSING, AND PAIRINGS.
“I GREW UP IN KENTUCKY, HERE IN LEXINGTON, AND I DIDN’T KNOW ANYTHING ABOUT BOURBON UNTIL ABOUT FOUR YEARS AGO,” HE SAID. “BUT I DIDN’T HAVE ANYONE TO TEACH ME. THIS IS WHAT THIS GROUP DOES.”
BEATTY IS HOPING TO OPEN CHAPTERS IN OTHER CITIES IN OTHER STATES AND INCREASE AWARENESS OF THE BOURBON MARKET, ITS AFRICAN AMERICAN HISTORY AND THE DISTILLING INDUSTRY AS A CAREER OPTION. HIS OWN MOTIVATION COMES FROM SEEING AFRICAN AMERICANS OFTEN OVERLOOKED AS CONSUMERS AND ALSO IN MANAGEMENT. WHEN HE WORKED FOR CINGULAR EARLIER IN HIS CAREER, BEATTY WAS ALWAYS STRUCK BY THE DIVERSITY OF ITS EMPLOYEES AND ITS MARKETING.
“THAT WAS SPECIAL TO ME BECAUSE WHEN I WAS STANDING IN THOSE STORIES, I COULD SEE WHO WAS COMING IN,” HE SAID. “IT WASN’T JUST ONE COLOR OF PEOPLE.”
AND WITH THE DISTILLING INDUSTRY, THE OPPORTUNITIES GO FAR BEYOND WHAT COMES OUT OF THE BARREL. THEY ARE ALSO WHAT GOES INTO THE BARREL AND THE CHEMISTRY AND AGRICULTURE BEHIND IT, BEATTY SAID.
“I WANT OUR CHILDREN TO SEE THIS INDUSTRY AS AN OPTION AND TO UNDERSTAND AND BE PROUD OF OUR HISTORY IN IT.”

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September 16, 2023 kentuckyblackbourbonguild
BY LOUGIRL502
ONE OF THE BEST THINGS HAPPENING RIGHT NOW IN BOURBON IS THE PUSH TOWARD INCLUSIVITY. HISTORY OF WOMEN AND NONWHITE PEOPLE WHO HAVE MADE AN IMPACT ON THE BOURBON INDUSTRY IS STARTING TO BE UNCOVERED THANKS TO BRANDS LIKE UNCLE NEAREST 1856, AS WELL AS HISTORICAL AND ARCHAEOLOGICAL STUDY. THERE ARE ALSO SEVERAL BOURBON SOCIETIES GROWING AND FORMING TO MEET THE DEMAND FOR SUCH FELLOWSHIP. ONE OF THE NEWEST SUCH GROUPS IS THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, FOUNDED IN LEXINGTON, KENTUCKY WITH THE STATED GOAL TO “HONOR MINORITY INVOLVEMENT THROUGHOUT BOURBON’S HISTORY WHILE EMBRACING ITS’ FUTURE DEVELOPMENT THROUGH INCLUSIVITY, EDUCATION, AND COMMUNITY BUILDING.”
“THE KBBG WAS FOUNDED BY A LOCAL LEXINGTONIAN ENTREPRENEUR, MR. ROBERT BEATTY,” SAYS A REPRESENTATIVE FOR THE GROUP. “DURING A SUMMER 2018 TOUR THAT MR. BEATTY CONDUCTED TO THREE DISTILLERIES AND THE OSCAR GETZ MUSEUM IN BARDSTOWN KY, THE CONVERSATION AROSE ABOUT THE LACK OF AFRICAN AMERICAN EDUCATION ABOUT THE MULTICULTURAL IMPACT IN THE INDUSTRY PRE-PROHIBITION. THROUGH MANY CONVERSATIONS WITH INDUSTRY GURUS, HISTORY BUFFS AND OTHER BOURBON SOCIETIES, THE DECISION WAS MADE TO FORM AN ORGANIZATION THAT WILL EDUCATE MINORITY CONSUMERS ABOUT THE SPIRIT AND PROPERLY ACKNOWLEDGE ALL OF THE ETHNIC GROUPS THAT CONTRIBUTED TO THE ROBUST INDUSTRY IT IS TODAY.”
THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS FOR THIS GROUP INCLUDES MIKE ADAMS, IESHA ALLEN, ROB BEATTY, GATHAN BORDEN, WILLIAM HENDERSON, SALVADOR SANCHEZ, AND JOMO THOMPSON.
“THE PURPOSE OF THE KBBG IS TO IMPROVE MULTICULTURAL BOURBON TOURISM IN KENTUCKY, PROMOTE COMMUNITY DEVELOPMENT AND PROFESSIONAL NETWORKING, PROVIDE INDUSTRY RELATED EDUCATIONAL RESOURCES TO ITS MEMBERS, AND BUILD WORKING RELATIONSHIPS WITH DISTILLERIES BOTH LARGE AND SMALL,” SAYS FOUNDER AND PRESIDENT ROB BEATTY. “OUR MEMBERS ARE A GOOD MIX OF NEWBIES VS ENTHUSIASTS. OUR MEMBERSHIP IS DIVERSE AND WOMEN REPRESENT 50% OF OUR MEMBERSHIP.”
ACTIVITIES MEMBERS CAN EXPECT TO ATTEND WITH THIS GROUP INCLUDE MONTHLY TASTINGS, DISTILLERY TOURS, BARREL PICKS, BOURBON WORKSHOPS, AND MORE.
AS FOR BEATTY’S FAVORITE WHISKEYS AT THE MOMENT, THOSE INCLUDE, “SAZERAC, WHISTLE PIG 12YO, STAGG, AND ELMER T LEE SINGLE BARREL, TO NAME A FEW.”
TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, VISIT THEIR WEBSITE AT http://kentuckyblackbourbonguild.com/.

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September 16, 2023 kentuckyblackbourbonguild
BY JANET PATTON, LEXINGTON HERALD LEADER
KENTUCKY’S CASTLE & KEY DISTILLERY IS RELEASING A NEW WHISKEY THAT FOCUSES ON RIGHTING THE PAST BY FUNDING THE FUTURE.
IN PARTNERSHIP WITH THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, THE VERSAILLES DISTILLERY IS RELEASING THE UNTOLD STORY OF KENTUCKY WHISKEY, CHAPTER 1, WITH FUTURE VERSIONS TO COME. THE GUILD IS OFFICIALLY RELEASING THE WHISKEY ON NOV. 13 IN LEXINGTON.
THE WHISKEY HAS A MASH BILL OF 73 PERCENT WHITE CORN, 10 PERCENT RYE AND 17 PERCENT MALTED BARLEY. ACCORDING TO THE TASTING NOTES, IT HAS A NOSE OF TOFFEE, BAKED APRICOT, AND HONEY ROASTED PEANUTS WITH A PALATE OF DARK HONEY, PEANUTS, PIE CRUST, DARK CHOCOLATE PIE, WITH NOTES OF BLACK PEPPER AND TOASTED TOBACCO.
THE 106.6 PROOF WHISKEY IS PRICED AT $149.99 AND THERE ARE ONLY 425 BOTTLES.
BUT THE BEST THING ABOUT THIS RELEASE MIGHT NOT BE WHAT IS INSIDE THE BOTTLE BUT WHAT IT WILL DO FOR FUTURE DISTILLERS: 100 PERCENT OF THIS NEW WHISKEY SALES WILL SUPPORT THE CASTLE & KEY SCHOLARSHIP FUND, A SCHOLARSHIP CREATED TO PROMOTE DIVERSITY AND INCLUSION IN THE DISTILLING INDUSTRY, ACCORDING TO A NEWS RELEASE.
CASTLE & KEY DISTILLERY IN VERSAILLES IS RELEASING A SPECIAL WHISKEY, THE UNTOLD STORY OF KENTUCKY WHISKEY, CHAPTER 1, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD TO RAISE MONEY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS INTERESTED IN CAREERS IN DISTILLING.
CASTLE & KEY DISTILLERY IN VERSAILLES IS RELEASING A SPECIAL WHISKEY, THE UNTOLD STORY OF KENTUCKY WHISKEY, CHAPTER 1, IN CONJUNCTION WITH THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD TO RAISE MONEY FOR A SCHOLARSHIP FOR AFRICAN AMERICAN STUDENTS INTERESTED IN CAREERS IN DISTILLING. PROVIDED
“AS DISTILLERS AND ADMIRERS OF AMERICAN WHISKEY, IT IS OUR RESPONSIBILITY TO SHARE THE HISTORY OF HOW THE SPIRIT CAME TO BE,” SAYS WILL ARVIN, CO-FOUNDER OF CASTLE & KEY. “WE ARE HONORED TO HAVE PARTNERED WITH THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD TO AMPLIFY THESE UNTOLD STORIES AND TO LAUNCH THIS IMPORTANT SCHOLARSHIP FUND. OUR HOPE IS TO AMPLIFY THE DIVERSE HISTORY OF OUR INDUSTRY AND TO SUPPORT A MORE EQUITABLE FUTURE FOR PROSPECTIVE DISTILLERS.”
THE WHISKEY WILL BE AVAILABLE TO BUY FOR PRE-PURCHASE IN ADVANCE TO GUESTS AT THE UNTOLD STORY SPECIAL RELEASE BRUNCH HELD BY THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD AT BASE249 IN LEXINGTON ON NOV. 13 FROM NOON TO 3 P.M. TICKETS ARE AVAILABLE ONLINE AT KENTUCKYBLACKBOURBONGUILD.COM FOR $85 PER PERSON AND INCLUDE A TASTING OF THE UNTOLD STORY WHISKEY, A SIGNATURE COCKTAIL, BRUNCH FROM BLACK SOIL KENTUCKY, A SILENT AUCTION, AND LIVE BAND ENTERTAINMENT.
CASTLE & KEY WILL RELEASE ANNUAL “CHAPTERS” OF THE UNTOLD STORY, WITH EACH FOCUSING ANOTHER ASPECT OF HOW AFRICAN AMERICANS HAVE CONTRIBUTED TO THE SPIRITS INDUSTRY.
“THIS SPECIAL RELEASE RIGHTFULLY CONNECTS AFRICAN AMERICAN CONTRIBUTIONS TO THAT VERY AMERICANISM GOING BACK TO THE DATES OF SLAVERY,” SAYS MIKE ADAMS, VICE PRESIDENT OF THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, IN THE NEWS RELEASE. “MAKE NO MISTAKE ABOUT IT, THIS PROJECT BOLDLY CONFESSES A TRUTH THAT MOST HAVE BEEN RELUCTANT TO MERELY UTTER ALOUD. OUR ORGANIZATION IS PROUD TO WORK WITH SUCH A COURAGEOUS, FORWARD-THINKING, AND FAIR ORGANIZATION AS CASTLE & KEY.”
THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD WAS FOUNDED BY ROBERT BEATTY IN LEXINGTON TO FOCUS ON MINORITY CONSUMERS AND THE INFLUENCE OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS ON THE DISTILLING INDUSTRY.
THE CASTLE & KEY SCHOLARSHIP FUND WAS ESTABLISHED AT THE BLUE GRASS COMMUNITY FOUNDATION TO SUPPORT SCHOLARSHIPS FOR STUDENTS OF COLOR INTERESTING IN WORKING IN THE DISTILLING FIELD IN KENTUCKY. THE $5,000 SCHOLARSHIP IS RENEWABLE FOR ONE ADDITIONAL YEAR OF STUDY. THE SCHOLARSHIP OPENS FOR SUBMISSION IN JANUARY 2022 AND CLOSES IN MARCH.
“WITH THIS PROGRAM WE HOPE TO INSPIRE A NEW GENERATION OF DISTILLERS AND TO CHALLENGE THE CONVENTIONS OF THE PAST,” SAYS JONATHAN NEWTON, DIRECTOR OF SALES. “WE HOPE TO INCORPORATE MORE OF THIS HISTORICAL NARRATIVE INTO THE EXPERIENCE AT CASTLE & KEY, AND WE HOPE THAT THIS INITIATIVE INSPIRES MORE OF THIS IMPORTANT WORK THROUGHOUT THE INDUSTRY.”

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September 16, 2023 kentuckyblackbourbonguild
BY ASHLIE STEVENS, WFPL-FM
LEXINGTON, KY. (AP) — IN HIS LEXINGTON OFFICE, ROBERT BEATTY PULLS UP A SPREADSHEET FILLED WITH NAMES AND CONTACT INFORMATION.
“WE JUST DID A ROSTER UPDATE, AND WE’RE SITTING OVER 55 MEMBERS CURRENTLY,” BEATTY SAID. “SO WE ARE REALLY EXCITED ABOUT THAT.”
THAT’S 55 ACTIVE MEMBERS OF THE NEWLY-FORMED KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, A NONPROFIT BEATTY FOUNDED ABOUT THREE MONTHS AGO.
ACCORDING TO BEATTY, SINCE ITS CREATION, BOURBON — DESPITE GOING BY THE MONIKER “AMERICA’S NATIVE SPIRIT” — HAS HISTORICALLY IGNORED CONSUMERS OF COLOR. HE HOPES THE GUILD WILL BRIDGE THE GAP BETWEEN BOURBON DISTILLERS AND BLACK DRINKERS.
“THE INDUSTRY IS NOT TARGETING BLACK CONSUMERS. IT’S THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM AND IT’S NOT SOMETHING THAT’S BEEN DENIED,” BEATTY SAID.
AS A GROUP, AFRICAN AMERICANS SPEND THE LARGEST PERCENTAGE OF THEIR ALCOHOL-BUYING DOLLARS ON DISTILLED SPIRITS. AND THAT NUMBER IS INCREASING. BUT THIS GROUP ONLY MAKES UP ABOUT 9 PERCENT OF BOURBON SALES NATIONALLY, WHICH IS SMALLER THAN THE ABOUT 13 PERCENT OF THE POPULATION THAT IDENTIFIES AS BLACK.
ACCORDING TO GUILD BOARD MEMBER GATHAN BORDEN, THIS MEANS THERE’S DEFINITELY OPPORTUNITY TO ATTRACT MORE DRINKERS OF COLOR. HE LIKENS IT TO WHEN THE BOURBON INDUSTRY RECOGNIZED WOMEN AS A VALUABLE MARKET.
“WOMEN HAVE BECOME THE FASTEST GROWING SEGMENT OF BOURBON DRINKERS FOR A LONG TIME,” BORDEN SAID. “BUT WHEN YOU GO LOOK AT THE ADVERTISING AND THE MARKETING TOWARD BOURBON BRANDS, THEY DIDN’T REALLY TALK DIRECTLY TO WOMEN.”
BUT IN RECENT YEARS, WE’VE SEEN A SHIFT; LEGACY BRANDS LIKE JIM BEAM AND WOODFORD RESERVE ARE USING CELEBRITIES, LIKE MILA KUNIS, AS SPOKESPEOPLE AND DEPICTING WOMEN IN PRINT ADVERTISEMENTS ENJOYING THEIR PRODUCTS.
BORDEN SAYS A REASON FOR THIS IS FORMAL ORGANIZATIONS LIKE THE BOURBON WOMEN ASSOCIATION AND WHISKEY CHICKS, WHICH HELP EDUCATE THEIR MEMBERS ABOUT BRANDS AND, IN TURN, INTRODUCE DISTILLERIES TO THEIR MEMBERS.
BEATTY SAYS THE BLACK BOURBON GUILD COULD DO THE SAME FOR THEIR MEMBERS.
“WITH AN ORGANIZATION LIKE THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD, IT’S SHOWING THAT ‘HEY, WE ARE CONSUMERS. WE ARE TOP CONSUMERS,’” BEATTY SAID. ”‘WE LOVE QUALITY SPIRITS AND THAT WE WANT TO LEARN AND ENJOY THE KENTUCKY NATIVE SPIRIT OF BOURBON, AS WELL.’”
OVER THE PAST TWO OR THREE YEARS, A FEW OTHER BOURBON SOCIAL CLUBS TARGETED AT PEOPLE OF COLOR HAVE FORMED. THERE’S LOUISVILLE’S BOURBON & B-SIDES, FOR EXAMPLE, WHICH HOSTS HIP HOP AND BOURBON EVENTS.
CHET JOHNSON FOUNDED THE GROUP IN 2016. AT AN EVENT, JUST A FEW MONTHS AFTER THEY’D FORMED, HE WAS CONSIDERING WHAT IT WOULD TAKE TO ATTRACT MORE PEOPLE OF COLOR TO THE INDUSTRY.
“ONE PART MARKETING AND ONE PART SETTING THE RECORD STRAIGHT ON THE HISTORIES AND THE CONTRIBUTIONS OF BLACKS TO THE WHISKEY INDUSTRY, I THINK WOULD GO A LONG WAY,” JOHNSON SAID.
BEATTY SAYS THE KENTUCKY BLACK BOURBON GUILD HOPES TO HELP ACHIEVE THAT GOAL THROUGH THEIR EDUCATION MISSION, WHICH SETS THEM APART FROM OTHER SOCIAL CLUBS.
“WE’RE ASKING, ‘HOW CAN WE SPAWN FUTURE BOURBON HALL OF FAMERS,’” BEATTY SAID. “WITH OUR PLATFORM THAT WE HAVE, WE’RE GETTING MORE PEOPLE INVOLVED FROM A TOUR STANDPOINT, A WORKSHOP STANDPOINT, TASTINGS, TEACHING PEOPLE HOW TO PAIR, HOW TO NOSE.”
THE GUILD WILL ALSO LOOK AT THE HISTORY OF AFRICAN-AMERICANS’ INVOLVEMENT IN THE CREATION OF BOURBON AS WELL; A HISTORY THAT INVOLVES SLAVE LABOR AND IS OFTEN WHITEWASHED.
WHICH, BEATTY HOPES, WILL RESULT NOT IN JUST A NEW GENERATION OF BLACK BOURBON CONSUMERS, BUT BLACK BOURBON MAKERS AS WELL.