How a cancer survivor became a craft spirit pioneer as the first black woman to own a tequila brand in the world
“I am a 15-year survivor of pancreatic cancer, an 8-year survivor of breast cancer, and I have a blood disorder.”
With a well-deserved sense of pride, Nayana Ferguson continues, “I survived all of this to become the very first black woman in the world to own a tequila brand!”
Along with her husband, Don, Nayana founded Anteel Tequila in 2017, becoming one of the very few black-owned tequila brands. And the only black woman owned brand. The story of their tequila brand can be boiled down to a simple question: “Why not?”
“When I asked my husband if he could do anything in the world, he replied ‘own a tequila brand, but there’s no way we can do that.’”
Nayana says that simple, two-word question “led us down a path that seemed to be waiting for us.”
Since then, this black-owned alcohol brand has been steadily following their mantra to “Create Your Legacy.” Anteel Tequila’s unique line of craft tequilas are decorated with awards from some of the world’s most prestigious spirit competitions.
What’s in a name?
On a trip to the Dominican Republic in 2016, Don proposed to Nayana. As if the trip wasn’t momentous enough, Nayana continues saying, “This was the very first time that we talked about a dream of owning a tequila brand.”
The stunning Caribbean country also provided the inspiration for the black-owned tequila brand’s name.
“Anteel Tequila was inspired by the Antillean Crested Hummingbird,” a species Nayana and Don saw many, many times during their vacation.
The hummingbird holds a special place in Mexican folklore. For generations, the little birds have been considered beautiful symbols of positive energy, strength, courage, and elegance.
Positive energy. Strength, Courage. Elegance.
That about sums up Anteel Tequila. The world’s first tequila brand to be owned by a black woman. Who also happens to be a two-time cancer survivor.
A diverse group of craft tequilas
“As all tequila must be,” Nayana explains, “Anteel Tequila is produced in Mexico.”
The distillery Nayana and Don partnered with uses a local, mineral-rich water that adds depth and composition to the agave juice. Nayana continues, “We use a blend of Highland and Lowland Agave, which provides a complex flavor to Anteel Tequila and makes it very smooth with some great agave flavor tones.”
“The Highlands produce agave that are typically sweet, while the Lowlands agave are mineral rich and earthier.” The blend smooths out the flavors and creates layers of complementary complexities.
The intricacies of the seven-year-old agaves are on display in each bottle from Anteel Tequila, but Nayana points to one in particular. “Our Anteel Blanco Tequila.” With sweet tones of cooked agave, light hints of tropical fruit, and a slight pepper finish, the nuance of the agave blend is unmistakable.
Anteel Tequila adds another layer to the equation by resting their tequila in Tennessee whiskey barrels for eight months to create their Anteel Reposado Tequila. A personal favorite of Nayana’s, the barrels introduce smooth, warming tones of vanilla and oak to the already-exceptional tequila.
Being the first black woman to own a tequila brand in the world is a trailblazing accomplishment. But Nayana and Anteel Tequila weren’t done there.
“In our portfolio, we have the world’s only Coconut Lime Blanco Tequila,” says Nayana beaming.
Flavored with coconut meat and lime, and never anything artificial, Coconut Lime Blanco is teeming with notes of natural, unsweetened coconuts.
The rewarding challenges of running a small businesses
“The spirits industry is hard, very challenging, expensive, and immensely rewarding all at the same time.”
Nayana speaks with passion when she says, “Small business is the backbone of the country … They keep dreams alive and can sometimes be a focal point of a particular town or region. They’re magical and help to improve the local economy in so many ways.”
“There are some smaller or emerging independent distilleries that are making some amazing products. Once these brands get the recognition they rightfully deserve, it’s a game changer.”
But before the recognition comes the obstacles.
“The challenges that we’ve encountered throughout the process has been logistics and the supply chain,” Nayana recalls.
“Tequila is a heavily regulated spirit, one of the most regulated in the world and everything must be done in Mexico from production, bottling and labeling.”
Nayana has a singular piece of advice for those trying to break in. “Hire a consultant in the beginning stages. It will save time.”
That’s even opened up a new avenue for Nayana and Anteel Tequila. “We’ve done some consulting for some start-up brands in the past. Everything we’ve learned, we’ve been able to share to save them time and money.”
Creating a legacy as a black-owned tequila brand
“We want to change the landscape of tequila,” Nayana explains with purpose. “To obliterate the stereotypes and misconceptions that surround the bad tequilas of yesteryear that weren’t made from 100% Blue Weber Agave.”
Being a pioneering figure within the craft spirits industry, Anteel Tequila’s legacy is always in the forefront of their mind.
Their tagline is printed on the label of every bottle.
“Create Your Legacy.”
But Nayana has done more than create a legacy. As the first black woman owned tequila brand, she’s rewriting the history books.
And we can’t wait to see what she does next.