clock menu more-arrow no yes mobile

Filed under:

Oakland’s First Black-Owned Spirits Company to Launch Bourbon This Fall

Stygian Corporation wants to help launch more black-owned spirits companies along the way

Kentucky Bourbon Industry A Target Of EU Retaliatory Tariffs Photo by John Sommers II/Getty Images

A new black-owned spirits company in Oakland doesn’t just want to make smooth bourbon and vodka. Its founders want to empower African Americans nationwide to launch their own boozy businesses.

“If you go to bars across the country, how many African American-owned spirit companies do you see at those venues? Hardly any,” said Stygian Corporation founder and CEO JD Stewart. “How do we make sure spirits there are representative of minorities?”

Stewart hopes to launch Stygian’s Black Bourbon this November, and he believes it will be the first of its kind in the U.S. “There are no African American companies in the country producing bourbon,” he said. “We’d be the first. There are whiskies, wine, but there’s no bourbon.”

Nielsen data projects African American buying power at $1.2 trillion, and another Nielsen report states 40 percent of African Americans’ alcoholic purchases are spirits. So, launching a spirits company seemed logical to Stewart, and his plans for Stygian include making vodka, gin, and rum next. But he started with bourbon because of its history, and how African Americans have largely been erased from it. Historians know slaves helped make bourbon in the early days, but it’s unclear to what extent. Meanwhile, old bourbon labels often included racist imagery. “There’s a deep history there,” Stewart said.

Stygian’s bourbon will be made in Kentucky at a still-unnamed distillery co-owned by one of Stygian’s board members. (“I’m a bourbon purist, so it has to come out of Kentucky,” Stewart said.) Stygian will also have an unusual proprietary distilling process that speeds up the aging. According to Stewart, the company can take a two-year bourbon and distill it further so it tastes like a five-year bourbon within two days — but it wouldn’t be as expensive.

Soon after launching the bourbon, Stygian will also unveil the People’s Bourbon and Juice, a bottled cocktail flavored with pineapple juice. Stygian sold out of the drink at Oakland’s Art & Soul Festival in August — the first and only time Stygian has poured for the public thus far. By the end of the year, Stewart expects that locals will be able to find Stygian at East Bay bars including Beer Baron, Cafe Van Kleef, and Playt.

Next year, the goal is to bring Stygian’s bourbon to Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, New Orleans, New York City, Chicago, Philadelphia, Las Vegas, Detroit, Miami, and Washington, D.C. Part of Stygian’s profits will go toward helping African Americans start their own spirits businesses elsewhere in the country. That will be coupled with a technology arm of the company known as the Edge Platform, an “end-to-end roadmap” to help businesses get their spirits to market quickly; Stewart declined to elaborate until closer to launch.

“We’re excited to be the first African American majority-owned company that’s trying to disrupt an industry that’s a legacy industry,” he said. “We want to open up the door for other African Americans to come behind us.”