Black in bourbon: About Brough Brothers, Kentucky’s first Black-owned distillery

After releasing an inaugural sourced bourbon earlier this year, the brother-led brand hopes to release its own distillate in 2023.

In 1783, Evan Williams opened the first commercial bourbon distillery in Kentucky. 

It would take 237 years more for the first Black-owned distillery to enter the market in the state famous for its own bourbon trail.

The Brough Brothers
(L-R) Christian, Victor, and Bryson Yarbrough
Photo: Brough Brothers Distillery

Brough Brothers, in Louisville, has been on a breakneck pace of distillation and expansion since the Kentucky Alcoholic Beverage Control Board approved the distillery in 2020. Brough Brothers released its first bourbon earlier this year from sourced bourbon and hope to release its own distillate in 2023.

“We’ve got quite a bit of momentum, quite a bit of support from the community, from the retailers and the district distributors,” Victor Yarbrough, the CEO of Brough Brothers, told theGrio.

For those unfamiliar, “sourced” means a company gets its bourbon from another distiller. “Distilled” bourbon means the company brews, ages and bottles its product at its own facility.  

Brough Brothers hope they’ve found a niche, appealing to novice drinkers eager to try bourbon. They have, potentially, a huge market among Black consumers, who represent 13 percent of the national population but only 9 percent of bourbon drinkers, the New York Times reported.

Kentucky’s 68 distillers produce 95 percent of the world’s bourbon, according to Kentucky Tourism. Many of those distilleries house well-known brands, like Maker’s Mark, Wild Turkey, and Buffalo Trace. There are a growing number of smaller distilleries trying to make headway into the market. Brough Brothers seems to be on its way.

You can currently find the Brough Brothers brand in 28 states, and the owners have a plan to scale the business for greater distribution and expansion.

Yarbrough didn’t want to give away too much about his product, which is no surprise since the bourbon market tends to be tight-lipped on details like mash bills, age statements, and the amount of product it sells by the distillery. 

In general, “We call it ‘transition bourbon,’ for people who don’t really drink bourbon, never tried to taste it, like other things beyond bourbon,” Yarbrough said. “We think it’s a great introductory bourbon.”

He said the company intentionally set a mid-range price point for its spirits.

“We want to make sure that it’s competitively priced, that [for] people who have never tried it before, it’s less than $30, [so] they can take a gamble on it.”

So, what’s it like?

In the bottle, the bourbon seems surprisingly light in color, more like an Añejo tequila than an amber bourbon. But don’t let the color fool you; there are plenty of flavors here. 

I did my first taste in a rocks glass (neat), and while the flavors were OK, I couldn’t help but think I was missing something. So I tried the bourbon in a brandy snifter—and that made a huge difference.

On the nose, there’s menthol and alcohol and a hint of sweet citrus. The alcohol continued on the tongue, but then, the flavors broke through. The citrus blossoms into orange followed by a little allspice and cloves. I was also surprised by the rather full and thick mouthfeel, which I’ve come to expect with a bourbon that’s richer and has a typical amber color.

The spice surprised me because the mash bill—Yarbrough confirmed it’s 75/21/4—doesn’t normally lend itself to such pronounced flavors. At 41 percent alcohol and 82 proof, It goes go down easy and has a medium finish that accentuates the citrus and has very little heat on the back.  

This is a very nice, approachable, and versatile bourbon for entry-level drinkers. I recommend trying it without ice, but if you need to cut it add small few drops of water at a time instead of a full ice cube, which could really dilute the flavors. I don’t mix bourbon, but I could see it in an Old Fashioned or a Manhattan, or even in your favorite soft drink. Yarbrough said it also mixes well with lemonade.

If you can find a bottle of Brough Brothers, it’s certainly worth a try. 

Brough Brothers hopes to release a small-batch, higher-proof, higher-priced bourbon for “connoisseurs” sometime this year and is working through the details. I’m looking forward to that. 

Ray Marcano

Ray Marcano is a longtime, award-winning journalist who has written and edited for some of the country’s most prominent media brands. He’s former national president of the Society of Professional Journalists, a two-time Pulitzer juror, and a Fulbright Fellow.

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