Whiskey Trailblazer

Samara B. Davis, the founder of Black Bourbon Society, on standout sips and setting a welcoming table

Photo: Stephanie Eley

Davis with a few pours at the Garden & Gun Club in Atlanta.

Samara B. Davis is a bourbon enthusiast on a mission to promote inclusion and diversity through the enjoyment of whiskey. A Southern California native and a bourbon convert, Davis founded Black Bourbon Society, which now counts more than twenty-five thousand members and hosts events across the country, including tastings, cocktail parties, distiller talks, and weekend trips. With her husband, Armond Davis, she also founded Diversity Distilled, a nonprofit consulting firm dedicated to increasing diversity in the spirits industry.

Age: 41.

Home base: Atlanta.

Getting into the spirit: “I was a big wine drinker, so I already had a developed palate. With bourbon, it was easy for me to dive down the rabbit hole of learning about it and being fascinated with it.”

Why bourbon? “I was so intrigued by how bourbon is made—it’s essentially corn, water, wood, and yeast—and that you can come up with hundreds of different flavor descriptors from those basic ingredients.”

Changing tastes: “I started with Four Roses Single Barrel—that was my baseline—and then I went on this journey to liking super-aged bourbons with rich, dark, jammy notes. Then I went on to high-proof whiskeys. Occasionally, I still want a whiskey that punches you in the throat, but lately I’ve gone back to around the 90- to 95-proof range. You get a little bit of heat, some sweetness—some vanilla, caramel, and baking-spice notes—and you can also get a little bit of leather, tobacco, and rich currant.”

A deeper calling: “I realized that there wasn’t a target demographic for African American consumers beyond the urban demographic, and it was glaring that the brands were not in tune with how to engage with and involve diverse consumers. In the next few decades, the minority is going to be the majority of our population. If you want bourbon to be around for another two hundred years, you’ve got to make it accessible to everybody.”

Who can participate? “Black Bourbon Society is a diverse audience of bourbon enthusiasts. As long as you believe that there is room for us all at the table, you’re welcome to join.”

Whiskey is personal: “Don’t just go by the label. How does it smell? How does it taste? What do you like? It’s about enjoying the experience.”

Best bang-for-your-buck bourbon: “Evan Williams Bottled-in-Bond. I’ll put it in a blind-tasting lineup next to E. H. Taylor Small Batch, Elijah Craig Barrel Proof, or similar bottles, and folks always come back to Evan Williams.”

Most memorable sip: “The best thing I’ve ever tasted was Old Crow 10-Year Chessmen series. It’s black like espresso—so dark—but so rich and amazing.” Advice for hosting a tasting: “It’s not always about the whiskey. Bourbon is the connector, but it’s really about bringing people together and allowing room to learn and to engage.”