This is the tale of how a black history month pitch to a New York Times reporter went from an idea, to a story, to the retelling of one of America’s greatest whiskey brands to the creation of what may just be one of America’s next great whiskey brands – Uncle Nearest.
On June 25, 2016 the New York Times published a page one story by author Clay Risen, Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help from a Slave. Risen took what was an open secret at the Jack Daniel Distillery and surrounding community of Lynchburg, Tennessee and shared the story with the entire world. It turns out a young Jack Daniel didn’t learn the art of distilling Tennessee whiskey using what is now known as the Lincoln County Process of distillation from Preacher Dan Call but from a one-time slave, Nathan Green. Since the publishing of Risen’s story brought Nathan Green, known as Uncle Nearest, to the forefront, Jack Daniel’s Distillery has embraced the history, made it a part of their regular distillery tours and to their credit, officially recognized Nathan Green as Jack Daniel’s first Master Distiller. Technically at the time, Uncle Nearest was more likely referred as the Head Distiller, the term Master Distiller is a bit more of a marketing term developed in the 20th century.
The story wraps up by saying, “Nearis (it was later determined his name was Nearest) Green’s name is just a faint echo, even among several of his descendants who live in the area. Claude Eady, 91, who worked for the distillery from 1946 to 1989, said he was related to Green “on my mother’s side,” but didn’t know much about him. “I heard his name around. The only thing I knew was that he helped Jack Daniel make whiskey.” That faint echo was just about to get louder.
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Creating the Next Great American Brand – Uncle Nearest Whiskey
The story of Nearest Green was read by Fawn Weaver, a USA Today and New York Times and bestselling author, investor and founder of the Happy Wives Club while traveling overseas. We recently had an opportunity to hear Fawn tell the tale of how reading the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green changed not only her life but the life and legacy of Uncle Nearest.
Fawn is quick to set the record straight by kicking off her Nearest Green tale by saying, “Nearest Green was the first African-American Master Distiller on record in the United States and the first to have a bottle after his own name, that is Uncle Nearest.”
When she first read the 2016 article she said, “If there is any truth to this story, it is one of the most remarkable stories in African-American history to have never been told and if I have the opportunity to tell it, I am going to do it. So for the next little while, I was trying to convince my husband to let us go to Lynchburg. Now, I assure you, and every black male in here can tell you, we don’t want to go to a city called Lynch anything. He was just not interested and every day I would bring it up and he was not interested. Finally, I said, “It’s my 40th birthday; I want to go to Lynchburg. He was like, ‘I’m planning Paris.’ We can go there by way of Lynchburg.” Fawn got her way and went to Lynchburg (where she now lives) to meet with the then 93 year old relative of Nearest’s, Claude Eady.
Interested in hearing more? Fawn Weaver will be the keynote speaker at the American Craft Spirits Associations 5th Annual Distillers Convention happening March 4-6, 2018. You can learn more about full lineup of sessions and events here.
Fawn soon discovered that Mr. Eady didn’t know too much about Nearest. Not one to easily give up, her reporter instincts kicked in and she shifted her interview to learn about life in Lynchburg, Tennessee the home of Jack Daniel Distillery. “I began asking about life in Lynchburg. I began by asking about, ‘What’s your experience?’ Again, the name is Lynch-burg. And at the time, he was 92 years old. He starts describing this wonderful city and he’s talking about these different families and talking about what life was like and what they went through and the longer he talked the more I realized he wasn’t distinguishing between black families and white families, he was talking about them because they all lived side by side, they worked side by side, there was an equality among them which I couldn’t quite wrap my head around because it was called, I hate to say it, Lynch-burg.”
“I’m sitting there talking and his wife, who was a 4th grade teacher for 40 years, so she went through integration, she went through that whole process, and I remember Brown vs. Board of Education and just kind of what that looked like and I remember seeing the National Guard on TV, I remember all of these different things and so I said to her, ‘What was integration like for you?’ And almost without even thinking she said it was a, ‘Non-issue.’ You guys saw all the pictures of the National Guard with Brown vs. the Board of Education, right? And in the city called Lynchburg it was a non-issue. And I said well, how could it have been a non-issue? She said, ‘Well the kids were actually excited they were going to go to school together because they were already playing with each other before school and after school and on the weekends so they were just happy they were now going to be able to go to school together.’ So let me get this straight, they were playing together in the 40s, 50s and 60s do I have that right? She’s like, ‘Yeah.’ So what would they do? ‘They would play in the creeks, they would go and they would run around.’ I said so, at the same time that Dorothy Dandridge (pictured right) puts her toe in a pool in Las Vegas, they drained a pool, you’re telling me that the kids of Lynchburg, black and white, were playing together?”
It was that moment that I knew this story had to be written and it was that moment that this story was actually bigger than Nearest.
Watch as Fawn Weaver Tells the Tale of Nearest Green
Watch the video to hear Fawn Weaver share what she learned after two years of research gathered with the help of Nearest Green’s descendants, 20 archeologists, archivists, genealogists and interviews with over 100 people across six different states.
Fawn Weaver’s Goal…
To tell this story, “with honor… with love… with respect and make sure that the world knows who Nearest Green was but… make sure that it is told in such a way where it builds the legacy of Nearest, without harming the legacy of Jack.”
~ Fawn Weaver, Co-Founder Nearest Green Foundation & Nearest Green Distillery
Jack Daniel’s Legacy – 50th Anniversary Edition Book
Originally published in 1967, Jack Daniel’s Legacy tells the story of one of America’s biggest brands created in Lynchburg, TN and distributed around the world. The Jack Daniel’s Legacy | 50th Anniversary Edition is a news story written by a newspaperman about an unusual American who becomes greater by the day. He is an absolutely “unique” character who produced a “unique whiskey” under circumstances unapproved by any other whiskey pioneers.
This 50th Anniversary Edition includes a new Preface and Foreword written by Fawn Weaver. Drawing on more than 2,500 hours of research and more than 10,000 original documents and artifacts, Weaver concludes, “I came to this story as a skeptic of Jack Daniel. His legacy seemed greatly exaggerated. After nearly a year of research around this country, with much of it happening right here in the small town of Lynchburg, Tennessee, I’ve become a genuine fan.”
Proceeds from the 50th Anniversary edition will go to the Nearest Green Foundation, dedicated to preserving the history of the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States, and the first master distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery.