Leading By Example: Jason Ridgel Wants To Bring More Diversity To The Whiskey Space

By: Kymberly Amara

Sometimes all you need is for someone to lead the way, acting as a guide that helps you make it to the next level. Founder, Jason Ridgel, is doing just that but through the spirits industry. Guidance Whiskey was founded by Ridgel in 2018 and has since become a distinguished brand that has landed Ridgel amongst other well-known whiskeys as a formidable competitor.

Since its inception, Ridgel has made it clear that this is not only about whiskey but about coalescing around the need to unite the Black community. The serial collaborator is passionate about disrupting the status quo and joining other Black-owned businesses to help shed light on different brands and empower these small businesses. Motivated by the wisdom and excellence of our ancestors, Ridgel has managed to strike a symbiotic balance between creativity and innovation while respecting tradition.

Ridgely recalls his first encounter with liquor was with whiskey. After begging his uncle to let him have a taste, he quickly realized why his uncle repeatedly denied his request to have a sip. His whiskey experience left his chest burning, and he didn’t return to the liquor until he entered college but admits that he mostly stayed away from it, opting for vodkas and other liquors.

Ridgel worked as a Marketing Director and would purchase and consume top-shelf whiskey to impress the doctors and persuade them to join their practice. He recalls, “Most of the stuff we were drinking, no matter how expensive, aged, or famous; it was nasty to me.” This experience served as the backdrop to his journey of finding something that appealed to his taste buds. He was also searching for something that would be more approachable, especially for novice drinkers, that wouldn’t be scared off like he was because the whiskey burned a hole in your chest like the 100-proof Wild Turkey consumed years ago. So, what did he come up with after deciding to jump into this space? Guidance Whiskey is a combination of corn (88%), rye (10%), and malted barley (2%). Aged for two years, distilled in Iowa, and housed in Nashville, Guidance is flavorful, evidenced by the “burnt caramel from smoked barrels that lead to the Moschino cherry and/or vanilla based on your palette,” as noted on the website.

Guidance Whiskey’s journey has been fascinating. The pandemic caused Guidance to overhaul its marketing strategy, and of course, as a Black-owned business, the brand garnered a lot of attention. Ridgel likened the last few years to a roller coaster full of research and self-taught lessons. Ridgel admits that while having money is important, those looking to join the space shouldn’t get it twisted because the whiskey industry isn’t just about having money. Ridgel shares that the industry itself is more of a private club, and now that he’s more established, he understands why. With a better understanding of the business behind the industry and the numbers necessary to garner customers and sell the product, Ridgel states that he reached out to wine broker Stacy Thomas to assist him with finding a distillery that would work with him while he was learning how to get started.

Networking and connecting with others are crucial to success in this industry. Ridgel is equally passionate about helping others interested in the spirits space overcome the hurdles of coming up with a product, bringing it to market, and getting distribution. Ridgel’s goal is to create a community and bring more people, both consumers, and creators alike, to the whiskey and bourbon culture.

Guidance Whiskey is currently sold in 14 states and can be shipped to 44 states when ordered online. As the brand grows, consumers can learn more about the whiskey on their website and try out their new canned cocktail, Tippers, just in time for the summer. The ready-to-drink cocktail is a combination of fruit and tea and is made with the flavorful Guidance Whiskey consumers have come to love. One of the most exciting things about this new product is that it proudly states that it is a Black-owned brand.

Ridgel has the heart to move the needle forward through innovation and education by engaging others, helping them learn, and bringing more people to the whiskey and bourbon culture, both consumers and innovators alike. Guidance is a testament to Ridgel’s Alabama roots and the pursuit of brilliance. It is also evidence of the ancestors’ excellence and acknowledgment of today’s individuals, carrying the torch and doing the work. Beyond whiskey, Guidance embodies a lifestyle for those seeking direction, purpose, and an opportunity to create long-standing legacies.

Guidance has an array of things to look forward to, such as preparing to enter the Jamaican market in August, a 100-proof product coming out, and a new bottle design. With an eye for seeing things on the horizon and a keen sense of direction, who better to lead the helm than Ridgel as Guidance Whiskey continues evolving. “What I’ve started, I pray that I won’t live to see the end of it. I’m putting stuff in place for my great-great grandkids, and that’s a selfless act because I won’t be here to see it.” Ridgel’s words strike a serious tone but instill hope as it’s evident that he is an ancestor in the making who’s innovative, bold, and wise.

Find out more at https://guidancewhiskey.com/guidance-whiskey/