Samara Davis, founder of Black Bourbon Society (BBS), is celebrating seven years since she began her membership organization aimed at uniting Black bourbon enthusiasts who share an appreciation for America’s native spirit, as well as addressing racial stigmas and marketing biases in the spirits industry.
From creating a seat at the table for Black bourbon drinkers to partnering with major brands like Jack Daniels, Maker’s Mark and Woodford Reserve, Davis has established a track record in curating consumer experiences like cocktail tastings, educational programming and social networking events for BBS’ 30,000-plus membership base.
While BBS is the bridge to facilitate these events, she looks to her latest business developments to impact how African Americans are viewed in the spirits industry, both as consumers and entrepreneurs.
And Then There Were Three
Within the last three years, the fourth-generation entrepreneur has launched Society Marketing Group, Diversity Distilled and the Black Owned Spirits Symposium (BOSS) in a collective effort to establish more opportunities for diversity and inclusion behind the scenes and on the front line of the spirits industry.
“It’s overwhelming to see the vision I created seven years ago being able to make such a huge impact in the spirits industry,” says Davis. “That one idea of Black Bourbon Society has turned into three entities that are able to advocate and address issues surrounding diversity, equality and inclusion from different angles.”
As Davis worked to expand partnerships for BBS just before the influx of protests against racial injustice in 2020, she realized brands faced challenges engaging with diverse consumers because the organizations often lacked diversity among staff.
Following the murders of Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor and George Floyd, the Black Lives Matter movement demanded more corporate activism and follow-through on commitments to equity.
Davis developed Society Marketing Group to help enrich consumer insights and build authentic representation across different levels of beverage organizations. The full-service experiential multicultural marketing agency is now the primary agency for producing BBS’ brand-partnered events.
While her marketing agency is a critical piece of the equity puzzle, creating executive-level employment opportunities for BIPOC within the spirits industry is equally important. Many brands claim to focus on diversity and inclusion in the workplace, but gaps still exist between their intentions and the sparse representation of BIPOC corporate leaders.
Across the board, executive leadership teams of many spirit manufacturers and distributors remain predominantly white and male.
To help change the optics of executive leadership teams, Davis launched Diversity Distilled – a nonprofit consulting firm dedicated to advising spirits brands on how to create and implement diversity and inclusion policies within their corporate structures.
“You can say you are a diverse company, but you can’t say you are inclusive if all your diverse talent is stuck in entry-level positions,” Davis insists.
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Beverage companies like Beam Suntory have been receptive to Diversity Distilled and its mission. Beam Suntory initiated its first resource group for African American employees and hired its first chief diversity & inclusion officer, Victoria Russell, who is also a member of BBS.
“In the beginning, we were begging brands to work with us and see the mission of diversity and inclusion in the spirits industry,” says Davis. “Now, brands are knocking down our door to be in front of our audience and to learn ways to be more inclusive within their own organizations.”
Creating Space for Black Entrepreneurs
Although gradual change is happening, the reality is, creating a more inclusive spirits industry will take time. Despite the industry’s shift to increase diversity within organizations, Davis realizes there is still room to advance equity across the entrepreneurial landscape.
“I still haven’t seen the change of diversity and inclusion within the spirits space that I would like to see, so I feel like this is my assignment, and I’ve got to complete the assignment I’ve been given,” she says.
As part of Diversity Distilled, Davis developed the BOSS accelerator program. The six-month incubator program is invite-only and nurtures the commercial success of Black-owned spirit brands by connecting the owners with resources to help them succeed in the competitive marketplace.
BOSS’ pilot cohort is currently underway and includes ten Black entrepreneurs ranging from distillers to vintners and brewers. With sponsorships from partners, including United Distributors and Jack Daniel’s, BOSS offers a free curriculum to program participants. Entrepreneurs meet virtually twice a month to learn from experienced industry leaders on topics such as funding, advertising, distribution strategies, business law and much more.
“We meet BOSS participants wherever they are in their entrepreneurial process,” says Davis. “The pilot cohort includes brands that have already launched and are building their distilleries as part of the program, and there are also participants who are just getting started and don’t even have their labeling developed.”
Upon graduating, BOSS alums are eligible to present and sell their bourbon brands at BBS’ signature Bourbon Boule event. The annual convention gathers whiskey lovers for a weekend-long lineup of bourbon tastings, distillery tours, educational bourbon programming, networking dinners and more.
This year’s 6th Bourbon Boule event will take place in Louisville, Kentucky, September 1-3. Tickets may be purchased by BBS members and non-BBS members on the Bourbon Boule website.
For more information on Diversity Distilled and the BOSS accelerator program, visit diversitydistilled.org. To join BBS, visit blackbourbonsociety.com. You may also stay up to date with BBS by following the organization’s Instagram, Facebook and Twitter accounts.