A friend recently mentioned Uncle Nearest Whiskey to me. As I’d never heard of it before, I decided to look it up. Instead of just another whiskey brand, I unearthed an exciting story, layered and complex. A story I want to share.
We’ve all heard of Jack Daniel’s – it’s the most popular whiskey in America, after all. What you might not have heard is about the man who taught a young Jack Daniel the art of distilling – Nathan “Nearest” Green. Mr. Green was enslaved when he first met Jack at the distillery run by local preacher and grocer, Dan Call. Green was already a skilled distiller, known for making some of the smoothest whiskey in the area, and took the lad under his wing, teaching him how to distill fine spirit. After the Civil War, and as a free man, Mr. Green worked alongside Jack Daniel at a fledgling distilling operation in Lynchburg, TN, becoming quite possibly the first African American Master Distiller in America.
In 2016, JD made international headlines when it acknowledged this fact and intended to rectify the story being told on its tours to the distillery (which, up until this point, referenced Daniel being taught to run a whiskey distillery by reverend/distiller, Dan Call). This move was made in the 150th year of JD, and when there was some concern over whether it would be seen as a marketing ploy, the intended changes somehow faded away.
And that could’ve been that, had it not been for a woman named Fawn Weaver. Ms. Weaver, an African-American real estate investor and author, came across that article and hopped on a plane to the Jack Daniel’s Distillery to experience it for herself. But when she took the tour (3 times, in fact) and no mention of Green was ever made, she was determined to get to the bottom of it. She set up headquarters in Lynchburg, even buying the farm where Green and Daniel had originally begun distilling, as she dug into the history, connected with Green’s descendants (many of whom are still in the area and working at JD), and eventually acquired over 10,000 pieces of history, from articles and papers to artifacts and pictures. Her detailed reporting (she’s an author after all) culminated in great successes, chief amongst them talks with Jack Daniel’s which led the mega-corp to rightfully acknowledge Nathan “Nearest” Green as an integral part of their founding history and JD’s first Master Distiller, with Jack Daniel himself named second.
But the story doesn’t end there. Ms. Weaver is a relentless powerhouse who decided to create her OWN whiskey brand – Uncle Nearest Whiskey, which, according to their website: is inspired by the best whiskey-maker the world never knew, the first known African-American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green.
This is a female created, all minority-led whiskey company with a rich history and an exciting future.
For a fuller look at this fascinating story, see the 2017 NYT article by Clay Risen.