Uncle Nearest Launches $50 Million Venture Fund to Help BIPOC and Women-Owned Spirits Brands
The fastest-growing whiskey brand in U.S. history will help other minority-owned companies
We’ve called Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey the most important story in the history of American whiskey. The Black-owned spirits brand didn’t even exist five years ago; today, it’s the fastest-growing whiskey brand in U.S. history and home to one of the most impressive distilleries we’ve even seen. (The whiskey is also very, very good.)
But the company’s investments outside of its own product might be just as important. Last year, Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel’s teamed up to fund the Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative, which supports “rising and aspiring Black distillers as well as Black entrepreneurs entering the whiskey spirits industry.”
That was a welcome and generous $5 million investment to improve diversity within the spirits world. Now, the company is taking a bigger financial leap with the launch of Uncle Nearest Venture Fund, a $50 million fund created to invest in BIPOC and women-owned spirit brands.
The fund’s launch purposely coincides with the 100th anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre. As a press release notes, “Uncle Nearest hopes to recreate a Black Wall Street of sorts within the spirits industry by lifting up brands that are building their own legacies.”
To begin, two companies will receive $2 million through the fund: Jack From Brooklyn, Inc., the maker of Sorel Liqueur, and Equiano Rum Company (who we’ve discussed before). That dollar amount is also historically important; according to the company, the amount of money lost during the Tulsa Massacre — when white mobs attacked Black citizens and destroyed buildings within the prosperous Greenwood District of Tulsa, O.K. — was about $2 million, or the equivalent of $26.8 million in today’s money.
“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,” says Uncle Nearest founder and CEO Fawn Weaver. “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.”
The investments are quite welcome within the industry. “Most people don’t know how expensive it is to create and grow a premium spirit brand in America,” says Sorel founder Jackie Summers. “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.” (Sorel will now relaunch as an exclusive to ReserveBar.)
Weaver’s central role in the fund comes as no surprise. When I interviewed her in 2019 (the day before the distillery opened to the public), she relished the rather nontraditional ways she’d built her own company, which included two rounds of $30 million investments each, all from individuals and none from companies, private equity or venture capital. “And no spirits companies!” she said. “We’re independent. I love having no people with a spirits background investing in us.”
Thankfully, Weaver — now, admittedly, an industry pro — can put her new fund to great use.
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