How Vanessa Braxton Became The First African-American Woman Distiller

Brooklyn-raised entrepreneur who is the CEO and founder of Black Momma Vodka and Gravesande Braxton Distillers, Vanessa Braxton, is the first African-American woman distiller and master blender in the United States.

It was in 2012 that Braxton was awarded by New York State Proclamation by the Legislator, 16th District, for her historic accomplishment. Before starting Gravesande-Braxton Distillery and her spirit company, she had to make an important choice: whiskey or vodka. However, Braxton explained that it was a no-brainer to make the former.

"Vodka and clear spirits have always been my thing," Braxton said. "It's one of the hardest things to make. Everybody can't make [good] vodka."

Black Momma Vodka is different from other vodka brands because it's made from whey and tea. Traditional vodka is made from water and cereal grains such as wheat, sorghum, or rye. Braxton creates an assortment of different teas like pomegranate, chai, and green tea at her distillery since those teas are used to flavor the vodka. At Black Momma Vodka, the spirit is distilled and filtered five times each. Since the vodka is made from whey, it is sustainable and gluten-free for those with gluten sensitivity.

Just like any industry, creating a sustainable business in the spirit sector comes with its challenges. One of the largest obstacles Braxton has faced is maintaining her creativity with her brand and still providing safe ingredients for her customers to enjoy.

"Trying to keep everything as natural as possible," Braxton notes as one of the challenges she's faced in the industry. "There are a lot of chemicals and people don't know about. These flavors are made in a lab, and you try to keep them as natural as possible with natural extracts."

Black Momma Vodka

In the early stages of building her brand, Braxton con­fronted an additional hurdle – being a Black woman in the spirits industry.

"Also, the challenge of being a Black woman at the time and the only one, you know, just a few spirits and doing this we're talking about ten years ago, you have a lot of brands now that are out. There were so many challenges for me, in terms of being a Black woman, making vodka and making a spirit and putting a brand out," she explained.

"I had to go and fight with legislation to push laws so that way we can get through. There was me, Chris, and Ron, and we pushed laws through legislation so craft spirits and black-owned brands could exist today. People don't realize that we were the ones putting in the work. So, all these brands could be here today."

Among those racial barriers Braxton had to rise above also included placement in her distillery, which is located in Brooklyn, as well as financial components such as tax structure once the brand is created. While it's not a shock to most, Braxton added that the industry is "still facing challenges in diversity today."

While Vanessa is married into the famous Braxton family, including Toni, Tamar, Trina, Michael, and the late Tracy Braxton, she says it was necessary to honor her maiden name, Gravesande, in her brand.

"It honors my father, my father and my grandfather, and my great grandfather, and so on and so forth. So I wanted to keep that name, which is also part of my legacy."

Black Momma Vodka comes in various flavors, including chai tea, pomegranate, green tea, and more. To try Black Momma Vodka for yourself, you can order nationwide delivery online at blackmommavodka.com.