Thursday, July 18, 2024

Distilled truth: Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey and its rise to recognition

In the world of whiskey, tradition often reigns supreme. Brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Jack Daniel’s tend to evoke visuals of Southern charm, warmth and generations-old recipes. But for Fawn Weaver, CEO of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, a discovery in 2017 obliterated a long-held narrative.

She stumbled upon the story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green, a Black man who played a pivotal role in Jack Daniel’s rise to fame. This story had been relegated to the murky crevices of history.

Weaver said she was not even aware of the history of Nearest Green and his impact on Jack Daniel’s legacy until roughly eight years ago.

“This journey began when I saw on the cover of the New York Times international edition ‘Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave,'” Weaver told the Indianapolis Recorder. “That is what piqued my interest. I had never heard of a brand willing to admit that there was an African American at the beginning of it.”

A Photo of Fawn Weaver.

Green’s relationship with Jack Daniel and the brand is a complex one, shrouded in the haze of time. Historical accounts suggest he was Daniel’s enslaved head distiller and mentor who taught Daniel how to make whiskey.

Green, a skilled craftsman, is credited with introducing Daniel to the charcoal mellowing process, a technique that remains the cornerstone of Jack Daniel’s distinctive flavor profile.

“If you think about every bourbon brand, many who have been around for 150 years, (they) had a Black distiller, but we don’t know any of their names,” Weaver said.

Despite his contributions, Green’s story remained largely untold for over a century. Weaver, determined to rectify this historical injustice, embarked on a relentless quest. She meticulously combed through archives, interviewed descendants and pieced together the fragments of Green’s life.

The result? The inception of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, a brand dedicated to honoring Green’s legacy and challenging the status quo in the whiskey industry.

Victoria Butler of Uncle Nearest.
Master Blender and direct descendant of “Uncle Nearest’ Green Victoria Eady Butler

Weaver’s diligence eventually led her to Victoria Eady Butler, a direct descendent of Green. Today, Butler is a master blender for a brand catalyzed by her ancestor.

“I am continuing a family legacy that started 160 years ago,” Butler said. “I became a master blender and have been traveling the world and meeting amazing people.”

Uncle Nearest’s impact has become somewhat undeniable. The brand, launched in 2017, has become a billion-dollar success story, racking up many awards. This meteoric rise speaks volumes about the quality of the product itself, but it also signifies a growing consumer appetite for brands that champion diversity and inclusion.

Weaver’s efforts extend beyond Uncle Nearest. She is a vocal advocate for diversity in the spirits industry, mentoring aspiring minority entrepreneurs and fostering a more inclusive environment.

“I don’t pay any attention to the fact that I am a woman or that I am a person of color,” Weaver said. “People have never seen anyone who looks like me, so they don’t know how to compete with me. That is an enormous advantage for me.”

Her work with the Nearest Green Foundation, established to educate the public about Green’s life and contributions, further amplifies this message.

Jack Daniels and Nearest Green
A photo of the many hands involved in the making of Jack Daniel’s Whiskey, including George Green, the son of Uncle Nearest, circa 1904. (Photo provided/Newfields)

The story of Fawn Weaver, Victoria Eady Butler and Nearest Green transcends the realm of whiskey.  The team showcases the power of perseverance, the significance of recognizing historical contributions from neglected groups and the potential for a single individual to rewrite a narrative. Weaver’s success paves the way for a future where the history of American whiskey reflects the complex tapestry of its creators and not just a select few.

“I am not a sprinter; I am a hurdler,” Weaver said. “I expect for hurdles to be there, I expect for the challenges to be there, so to focus on them feels unwise.”

Weaver’s unwavering commitment to unearthing the truth and celebrating diversity has not only revived the legacy of Nearest Green but also serves as a beacon for a more equitable future in the world of whiskey.

The clinking of glasses with Uncle Nearest on the rocks is no longer just about enjoying a smooth drink; it’s a toast to a story finally told and a future brimming with possibilities.

“The focus is on building the first spirit conglomerate to be built ever by a woman or a person of color,” Weaver said. “That is the goal.”

Those looking to purchase Weaver’s new book “Love & Whiskey: The Remarkable True Story of Jack Daniel, His Master Distiller Nearest Green, and the Improbable Rise of Uncle Nearest,” can do so here.

Contact multi-media & senior sports reporter Noral Parham III at 317-762-7846. Follow him on X @3Noral. If you would like your business highlighted by the Indiana Minority Business Magazine, click here.

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