Juneteenth is a national holiday dedicated to not only the end of slavery within the United States, but to also celebrate African Americans’ history, culture, and contributions. Although it is a recent national holiday, it has been celebrated for years, and here at Flavorman, we believe in uplifting those accomplishments and achievements as well. African Americans in the past and now are making bold innovations in the beverage industry. Not only do we want to uplift those that are making drinks, but also those that have a hand in helping the beverage industry grow and reach new audiences. At Flavorman, we want to celebrate 5 people within the African diaspora who are innovators in the beverage world.
Nathan Green- Master Distiller
There are a lot of unsung and unnoticed African Americans that have helped shape the modern world through inventions and skills. Through obscurity, Nathan Green was almost one of those individuals lost to the sands of time. Still, thanks to the research of 20 Journalists, historians, archivists, archaeologists, conservators, and genealogists, his story has been brought to the light.
Nathan Green was born into slavery and was freed with the ratification of slavery. Green was owned by a preacher named Dan Col, and continued to work with Col in his side-hustle of distilling whisky after the ratification of slavery. Dan Col took in a boy who would later be known as “Jack Daniel” who wanted to be involved in the whisky distilling business. Not much older than Jack, Green was charged to teach him the technique of distilling Tennessee whisky. Green derived his method from West Africa called “sugar-maple-charcoal” filtering. It was also known as the “the Lincoln County process,” and it was a method of distilling whiskey that gave it a unique smoothness. Once Jack got older, he made a career selling whiskey around town and to soldiers during the civil war. When Jack got older, he bought the distilling business from Dan Col and hired Nathan, or “Uncle Nearest” as he liked to call him, as the first master distiller of Jack Daniel’s whiskey company. Jack would later employ green’s sons Eli, Lewis, and George in the business.
Nathan Green’s contribution to the whiskey industry went unnoticed for years, but his work in establishing one of the most well-known alcohol beverages shouldn’t go unnoticed. Nathan Green’s methods are not only innovative in his use of whiskey distilling at the time, but it also touches back to the African roots from which he had been ripped away, making his story and contribution more unique. Thanks to those dedicated historians, and with some endorsement from actor Jeffery Wright, Nathan Green was finally given his own whisky brand in 2019 with the Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey company. The premium whiskey has now earned 450 awards for three consecutive years, is available in all 50 states, and has been dubbed on the website as the “Malt Disney world.
Mikaila Ulmer- Me and the Bees Lemonade
One of the youngest entrepreneurs and beverage innovators at 17 years old, Mikaila Ulmer, is the C.E.O. and inventor of “Me and the Bees Lemonade.” Years ago, Ulmer was stung by a bee twice. To ease her pain Ulmer learned about Bees and suddenly became fascinated with what they contributed to the overall ecosystem. One day her parents told her about a Children’s Business competition, and Ulmer got the idea to use her grandmother’s “flaxseed” lemonade recipe. To make the lemonade more unique, Ulmer thought back to her fascination with bees and decided that instead of using sugar for her lemonade, she would use honey from bees. In wanting to preserve the life and the ecosystem the bees helped to maintain, Ulmer dedicates a percentage of her lemonade sales to organizations that help save bees. Ulmer’s business motto is “Buy a bottle, save a bee.”
Ulmer’s lemonade grew in popularity in Austin, Texas, and is now sold in Whole Foods, Fresh Market, World Market, and H-E-B across the state, as well as Kroger stores and Vitamin cottage natural stores. Not only does Mikaila Ulmer work with environmental organizations such as the “Healthy Hive Foundation,” but she has also published a book titled Bee Fearless, Dream Like a Kid. Ulmer’s innovations and ideas are not only in the beverage industry but also in the overall preservation of the ecosystem and the bees, which are in danger of extinction.
Marc Farrell- Ten to One Rum
A Trinidadian native, Marc Farrell not only made a delicious rum from authentic Caribbean ingredients but has also used the rum to connect more people with Caribbean culture and history. An M.I.T., Cambridge, and Harvard Business school graduate, Marc Farrell became the youngest Vice President of Starbucks. After leaving the position, Farrell became fascinated with the public perception that rum carried. Farrell wanted to take the image and connotation of rum away from its roots in slavery, pirating, and British colonialism and imbue it with Caribbean history and culture that is proud and strong.
The flavoring and ingredients of “Ten to one” rum are also authentic to Caribbean culture; the dark rum blends bourbon-aged Barbadian, Dominican, Jamaican, and Trinidadian rums with no added flavoring or sugar. The white version of the rum blends Jamaican pot-still rum and Dominican column-still rum with zesty jasmine and honeysuckle.
Marc Farrell is a trailblazer for his company and to the rum industry overall. Farrell is making his rum more authentic and closer to the culture that helped produce rum, and he is also using his product to promote other Caribbean artists with clothing brands and musicians associated with the brand, including Ciera and those of the “New Calypso” movement.
Tamala Austin- J.I.V.E. Juice
Houston Texas native Tamala Austin is the founder and C.E.O. of a juice and smoothie company known as J.I.V.E. juice which stands for “Juice Is Very Essential.” After receiving a diagnosis of high blood pressure, Tamala started seriously thinking about her health and wellness. Around this time, she began creating juices and smoothies made from natural fruits and ingredients for herself. Eventually, Tamala started selling the juice and smoothies out of her Texas house and became famous through word-of-mouth marketing. Austin’s juice and smoothies grew more popular, and suddenly J.I.V.E. juice was born! As a certified health professional, Tamala Austin believes “Your health is your wealth. Your health is our business.”
When the company expanded, the J.I.V.E. juice company became the first business owned by an African American to be shelved and stocked in Whole Foods. Her juice and smoothies are guaranteed to help boost your energy, improve your digestion, and improve your immune system. The J.I.V.E. team can also customize drinks with the clients’ health in mind and made with natural fruit ingredients free of additive sugars or fats.
Tamala Austin and her J.I.V.E. company are innovators because they are not only making strides within the juice and beverage world but making a definitive and conscious effort to make their products healthy for the customers. Many brands and companies seek to make a profit, and while J.I.V.E. does charge, they also aim to please and help the customer for their long-term health and wellness.
Andra Aj Johnson- Beverage Director
Although she’s mainly known for being a beverage director, Andra Aj Johnson has worn multiple hats within the food and beverage industry since she was 14. An Afro-Latino who grew up in the black and urban neighborhoods of Washington, DC, Andra Johnson is a managing partner and director of her of her own restaurant and bar Serenata , a bar director, and a cocktail mixologist. As a hospitality industry leader, Andra Johnson is level 1 in the Court of master sommeliers and a Cicerone-certified beer server, is only some of the few accomplishments that demonstrate her wide-range of skills and knowledge. She also spearheads an initiative cocktail program, called “Back to Black,” which strives to raise funds and donate to overlooked and underfunded charities and organizations in Washington, DC, especially those within urban neighborhoods.
Andra Johnson is a cut above the rest for not only wearing many different hats in the food and beverage industry but also for using cocktails and drinks to tell stories. Johnson loves to use the combination of cocktail ingredients to reflect a culture, a moment in history, or her people. “Crafting cocktails is a gateway to storytelling and collaboration. Each cocktail is imbued with a meaning and a story to tell.” Andra Johnson intends to share her industry knowledge and tell more stories in her upcoming book White Plates, Black Faces.
All kinds of people are accomplishing innovations and excellent achievements. If Juneteenth has taught us anything, it’s that we should work to recognize and celebrate the works of the different cultures we encounter in our lives. The five people we listed are certainly not the only ones making significant changes within the beverage industry. We at Flavorman encourage clients to seek and shout out people from underrepresented communities who are inventing and creating new beverages that will change how the world drinks.
Do you have a great drink idea? Our team of beverage experts can help you bring it to life—and change what the world is drinking. Get started by filling out this webform or by giving us a call at (502) 273-5214.