Have I got a story for you. The history of Jack Daniels Distillery has a twist you may have never heard of. Or more precisely, the best whiskey maker the world never knew. His name was Nathan "Nearest" Green and it's about time we all knew about the contribution of Uncle Nearest to the American whiskey world and the Jack Daniels Whiskey Company.
During the 1850s, when Jack Daniel was a young boy, he went to work for a preacher named Dan Call. Reverend Call also happened to be a grocer and a distiller. That covers all the bases. God, food, and booze. Anyway, back to the story.
According to Jack Daniels folklore, the preacher was a very busy man, and decided a very young Jack Daniel showed promise in learning the distilling process. So Reverend Call taught Jack how to run his whiskey still, supposedly.
In June 2016, The New York Times published a story naming Daniel's actual teacher as Nathan "Nearest" Green, who was one of Call's slaves. This bombshell was supposedly known by locals and historians for years. The legend says that Call told 9-year-old Jack Daniel, "Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of." He told Jack that if he wanted to learn, Uncle Nearest would help teach him.
Ironically, Nathan Green (aka Nearest Green and Uncle Nearest) was only a few years older than Jack Daniel himself when he became the first African-American master distiller. He was also known for his lively personality and fiddle playing as well as his mastery of distilling whiskey. He was reportedly instrumental in developing what is called the Lincoln County Process, the sugar maple charcoal filtering method used to make most Tennessee Whiskey.
Green was one of a few enslaved people who stayed on to work for Reverend Call at the whiskey distillery after the Emancipation Proclamation ended slavery and freed the slaves.
Slavery ended in 1865 and Jack Daniel opened his distillery a year later. His first two employees were two of Green's sons, George and Eli Green. Nathan "Nearest" Green was married to Harriet Green, and they had 11 children together - nine sons and two daughters.
Over time, many of Nearest Green's children, grandchildren, and more descendants worked at the Jack Daniel Distillery making that famous Tennessee Whiskey. Seven generations to be exact, so far.
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is produced by Uncle Nearest, Inc. There are five blends including Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Silver Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Aged Whiskey Single Barrel Whiskey, Nathan Green 1870 Single Barrel, and Uncle Nearest 1884 Small Batch Tennessee Whiskey.
Uncle Nearest is the fastest-growing whiskey brand in the United States. In June 2021, People Magazine named Uncle Nearest one of the 100 Reasons to Love America by People magazine.
Nearest Green Distillery
The company's distillery is in Shelbyville, Tennessee, on a horse farm with big plans of expansion. This is where the Uncle Nearest brand whiskey is distilled and charcoal mellowed until ready for bottling.
With plans to grow over 100 acres of corn and natural spring water wells, Uncle Nearest is growing. There are also plans of walking paths, a malt house, and a tourist tasting room.
The recipe includes corn malt, a former whiskey ingredient that fell out of fashion with most Tennessee whiskeys. The Uncle Nearest whiskey recipe dates back to the whiskeys made in the late 1800s in Lincoln County, Tennesee. Author Fawn Weaver, the co-founder of the Nearest Green Foundation says, "It was saved from a fire just behind the square in Lynchburg and is now under lock and key at the Farmers Bank in Lynchburg, the bank Jack Daniel founded in 1888."
Truly keeping it in the family, Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great-great-granddaughter, is the brand's Master Blender.
Honoring Uncle Nearest
Author Fawn Weaver founded the Nearest Green Foundation to commemorate Green and his incredible previously little known contributions to the spirits industry. The foundation has created a new museum, memorial park, a book about Nathan Green's life, and established college scholarships for Green's descendants.
In July 2017, the first Uncle Nearest whiskey was created. Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey was created in conjunction with two Tennessee distilleries, but neither one was the Jack Daniels Distillery.
Uncle Nearest is the most awarded new American premium whiskey brand in US history, with over 75 awards since it appeared on shelves in 2017, including being named "World's Best" at Whisky Magazine's 2019 World Whiskies Awards. Cigar & Spirits Magazine put Uncle Nearest on the list of the Top 5 Whiskies in the World, and Nearest also was a finalist in San Francisco's 2019 World Spirits Competition.
Taste Unsung History With Uncle Nearest
1820 Single Barrel Edition - Premium Whiskey Aged 11 Years Less than 1% of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey barrels will ever be selected as single barrels. Qualifiers include a minimum of 11 years aging in a barrel. The cask strength must be above 108 proof, and it has to have the right flavor profile as judged by the Uncle Nearest whiskey industry professionals.
1856 Premium Aged Whiskey - Uncle Nearest 1856 is a blend of premium aged whiskies between 8 and 14 years old. The taste is bold and spicy at first but then it mellows into a sweet maple and vanilla.
1884 Small Batch Whiskey -Each small batch has its blend hand-selected and curated by descendants of Nearest Green. The signature of the descendant who curated each batch is embossed on the back of the bottle. Whichever small batch bottling you purchase truly has a personal touch of the story of Nearest inside.
This post was originally published on August 3, 2021.