Black History Month: Minnesota's alcohol business ownership

Black ownership in the alcohol business is rare.

Minnesota currently has two Black-owned breweries and one distillery, but it is also home to some special history.

Bottles of coffee liqueur move down the production line at Du Nord Social Spirits and into boxes headed across the country.

This is a new top seller at the first legal Black-owned distillery in the country.

The distillery also makes award-winning vodka and gin, but its origin story includes some struggles getting the money to launch in 2013.

"I felt welcomed within the industry," Chris Montana, Du Nord Social Spirits Founder and CEO, told FOX 9. "I think there was a different situation talking to potential investors, talking to banks, talking to distributors."

Montana eventually made it work and, originally, he didn’t care about being the first Black-owned distillery in the country, and he didn’t broadcast it. He wanted Du Nord be known for the quality of its liquors.

But as he pushed for diversity in the industry behind the scenes, George Floyd’s murder by police about two miles away from Du Nord’s home base prompted him to bring his race to the forefront.

The company now flies a huge Black Lives Matter flag over the production facility.

"The Minnesota tendency is to be a little bit more quiet about your business," Montana said. "But there are times when you just can't be, and you need to be a little louder."

Bill Eddins had a similar instinct after the Floyd murder.

"I was kind of enraged because I had just gone through my third set of riots," said the MetroNOME co-owner. "I did Miami ‘89 and L.A. ‘92, and we seem to be fighting the same things."

The former associate conductor of the Minnesota Orchestra already brewed beer as a hobby.

So he co-founded MetroNOME in Lowertown St. Paul with the goal of making music education accessible to kids no matter their race or socioeconomic status.

"NOME stands for ‘nurturing outstanding music education’," he said.

Eddins didn’t notice hurdles in his way related to his race, but attributes that to a lifetime of dealing with people from all walks of life.

Getting started was pretty clean for fellow brewer Chuck Dorsey as well.

He also turned a home brew hobby into a full-time business at Montgomery Brewing, bringing a 19th century small town beer maker back to life.

"I didn't want to focus on my race," Dorsey said. "I wanted to be focused on the beer, but I have been trying to get more and more of just color into things. Our beer is super fun. I like to do a lot of, like, pop culture type of arts."

Dorsey and Eddins are the only Black brewery owners in Minnesota.

Montana is the only Black distillery owner in the state, and he actually moved to New Orleans to raise his kids in a more diverse community.

Black Americans make up about 14% of the population, but not even 1% of all breweries and distilleries are Black-owned, so examples and mentors are hard to find.

But the Minnesota-makers try to fill the gap.

Dorsey even partly funds a Dakota Technical College scholarship for people of color trying to get into the industry.

So far, nobody has taken advantage of it.

But in his nine years of owning a brewery, he has noticed diversity creeping into the industry.

"There are a lot more brown faces and black faces out during events, which is great to see," Dorsey said. "It's starting to become more of a normal."

All three men stand out today, but they’d rather be among a bigger crowd, attracting attention for their drinks rather than their race.