Posted on February 2, 2021

A Potential Solution to Whiskey’s Diversity Problem

Kirk Miller, Inside Hook, February 2, 2021

Diversifying the spirits industry is a noble goal. But creating the actual pathway to achieving that goal is the more difficult task.

It goes beyond just better hiring practices. It requires mentorships, education, outreach to overlooked communities and then putting systems (and resources) in place to maintain that progress.

Last summer saw a promising start on creating this path. In June, Tennessee whiskey brands Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel’s pledged $5 million to create and fund the Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative, which would “support rising and aspiring Black distillers as well as Black entrepreneurs entering the whiskey spirits industry.” The co-branded initiative promised to include programs devoted to employable skills, business incubation and leadership acceleration.

A little over six months later, we wanted to check on the NJAI’s progress, especially when it was announced that Tracie Franklin would be the first apprentice selected for the leadership program. A former theater actress, Franklin was already well known in the spirits world, having worked as a National Ambassador for Glenfiddich.


Even with the pandemic preventing in-person tutelage or distillery visits, Franklin is deep into the new studies that’ll help her one day become a Master Distiller. {snip}

Interestingly enough, Franklin wasn’t initially much of a drinker. As an actress, she thought it affected her singing voice. “But I could sip on an expensive whisky all night and enjoy it,” she says. {snip}

Franklin, who was also bartending while auditioning, became more intrigued with the spirit. {snip}

Her passion eventually led her to a role at Glenfiddich. “There weren’t women of color, at least not in Scotch,” she admits. “I was often alone. I was taking up this mantle. But I thought I’d be a good person to spread the message and education. And the brand was 100% behind me about creating events and social media posts and spreading the word. {snip}”

She certainly made an impression; Franklin was named Scotch Whisky Ambassador of the Year at the 2020 World Whiskies Awards. “As a Black woman, I was breaking stereotypes,” she says. “And now everyone in the industry in Scotland knows my name! I belong. (Laughs) And I don’t even have a kilt.”