Believe it or not, there are many stereotypes associated with whiskey. It’s often deemed as a “man’s drink” and several stories surrounding African American distillers are left out of the history books; leading many to believe that whiskey is only popular amongst the white population. Harlemite Ron Williams is looking to break these generalizations and change the face of whiskey game through his annual Harlem Whiskey Festival.
A simple conversation over whiskey and cigars, at a local cigar bar in Harlem, birthed the Harlem Whiskey Festival. Williams was inspired to host the annual two-day whiskey event in Harlem because he felt like the community was being underserved. “I live in Harlem and love all things Harlem. When I looked at the landscape I realized that Harlem was undeserved in this particular space. Equally important is the fact that great whiskey is being produced in our backyard,” said Williams. “I wanted to give local and small batch distillers an opportunity to expose their brands to a limited and somewhat undeserved audience.”
As one of the most popular whiskey brands—Jack Daniel’s—celebrated their 150th anniversary this year, an integral part of the company’s story was revealed which opened up a dialogue surrounding how slavery and whiskey are intertwined. The brand shared that Jack Daniel learned how to run a whiskey still from a slave named Nearis Green; a story that wasn’t divulged by the company for over a century. Williams is glad that the brand is finally telling the truth about its history. “Jack Daniel’s should embrace its history,” said Williams. “It just goes to show you the impact and influence we [African Americans] have.”
Another group of individuals who are often left out of conversations surrounding whiskey are women; but what many people fail to realize is that historically there were a few women who were power players in the industry. “If you know the history of whiskey, you’d know that women played an integral role in the whiskey renaissance. Elizabeth Cumming and Bessie Williamson were distillery owners,” said Williams, who hopes to break the stereotype of whiskey being deemed a “man’s drink” through his festival. “The growth and continuation of our festival will hopefully shed more light on women in the whiskey world.”
Williams also hopes that the Harlem Whiskey Festival will leave a lasting impact on the local community. “Attendees should expect a hip, cool, and fun whiskey tasting experience with brand ambassadors, distillers and representatives from over 20 brands that are local and national,” he said. “Hopefully it will impact the community in a positive way, bringing downtown folks uptown.” He also has plans to take his movement further and open up the first whiskey distillery in Harlem.
For more information and to purchase tickets visit the HWF website.