History Meets Distilling as Uncle Nearest Celebrates Grand Opening of 1st U.S. Whiskey Distillery to Honor African-American [Video]
One of the greatest stories in American whiskey history was lost in time more than 150 years ago. It was lost not just once but multiple times. The tale of Nathan Green was a story known in and around Lynchburg, Tennessee but not known far beyond this small town located an hour and a half South of Nashville. This is a story of love, honor and respect.
Nathan Green, best known as Nearest Green or Uncle Nearest to those who knew him is the African-American man who taught Jack Daniel how to distill Tennessee Whiskey on the Dan Call Farm in the mid 1800s. Dan Call was a preacher. As time went on, Call had to choose between being a Lutheran minister and making whiskey. Call decided to stick with his ministry sold the Lynchburg distillery to a young Jasper Daniel, better known as Jack Daniel. Daniel soon changed the name of the distillery to what is now the world famous Jack Daniel Distillery in Lynchburg, TN. One of the first things Jack did was to hire his good friend Uncle Nearest to be his head distiller. In today’s terms Nearest would be known as Jack Daniel’s Master Distiller. Uncle Nearest and his family went on to be one of the most respected and wealthiest families in town. Nearest’s four sons also worked at the distillery.
Over the years the legacy of Uncle Nearest was mostly lost in time. In 1967 a newspaper man named Ben A. Green wrote the book “Jack Daniel’s Legacy.” That book included mention of the Green name at least 50 times. Not much was mentioned about the Uncle Nearest again until June 25, 2016 when the New York Times ran a front page story about the 150thh Anniversary of Jack Daniel’s. That story written by author Clay Risen was titled 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 and shared the story with the entire world. It’s a story that wasn’t really a secret but it wasn’t something that Jack Daniel’s Distillery tours embraced until around this time. Since then you can find information about Nearest on their website and during some of their many tours.
The Birth of the Uncle Nearest Whiskey Brand
That 2016 story caught the attention of Fawn Weaver. At the time Weaver was best known as a USA Today and New York Times bestselling author, investor and founder of the Happy Wives Club. Three years later Fawn Weaver is best known as the Co-Founder and CEO of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey.
At the recent Bourbon on the Banks festival Weaver spoke about her story and how she first reacted when she read the New York Times story.
“I read the story and immediately my first thought was, ‘Holy smokes, I don’t think that I can name any other American brands that have credited African-Americans being at the beginning,” said Weaver. “I don’t think I could of.’ And the problem with the article, although it was fantastic that it got the spark started and I’m now really good friends with the journalist that wrote it, and he was very clear in saying ‘Listen Fawn, that wasn’t meant to be journalistic effort. What I was doing was taking a bit of information that I was given and didn’t have the time do the research or didn’t have the resources to put the full effort behind it. So what I was doing is I was lobbing it up, hoping that someone would take the ball and run with it.’ Well I’m in Singapore and I read this story and realize I believe it’s the first time that in my lifetime I know there was an African-American that was at the forefront of an American brand that we all still know.”
And the rest as we say is history and the name Nathan Green best known to his friends at Uncle Nearest will never ever be forgotten again. Since then Weaver created the Uncle Nearest whiskey brand, established the Uncle Nearest Foundation and has begun construction of a new distillery in Tennessee to be the future home of the Nearest Green Distillery. Weaver is sourcing Tennessee whiskey and selling it under the Uncle Nearest brand today. In just a couple of years it has become the fastest growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history and is available in nearly every U.S. state.
A Short Film: Jeffrey Wright Shares the Story of Uncle Nearest
You can learn more about Uncle Nearest story in this short film narrated by Emmy-Award winning actor Jeffrey Wright. That voice is about as smooth as a fine sipping whiskey!
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Nearest Green Distillery Grand Opening September 14, 2019
A lot has happened since that 2016 article. The Nearest Green Distillery purchased the Sand Creek Farm in Shelbyville, TN and is ready to open the farm and future distillery up to the public on September 14, 2019.
Travelers visiting the Nearest Green Distillery during its Phase One opening can expect to see the first of what is to be built on the 270-acre property, with buildings and experiences continuing to open over the next few years. Once fully open with all phases built out, the Nearest Green Distillery will not only serve as a place where Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is distilled, aged and bottled, but will pay homage to Nearest and the many other innovators and innovations from Tennessee. The distillery has turned the former site of the famous Sand Creek Farms, a Tennessee Walking Horse farm and event center, into a full-blown destination for whiskey enthusiasts, Walking Horse lovers and families.
Phase One of the Nearest Green Distillery will include:
- A Tennessee Walking Horse experience where visitors will not only learn the history of the Walking Horse, but where more than 50 championship walking horses, and horses they sire, will continue to reside at the property.
- The Welcome House, complete with a custom-made horseshoe bar where visitors will learn about and sample Uncle Nearest’s award-winning whiskeys. It will be the only place in the world with tastings of all four expressions: Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey and Nathan Green 1870 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey, an expression previously sold only in the U.K. A second-story Awards Mezzanine was built out to showcase some of the more than 50 awards the brand has already won.
- A Copper Skies Experience where guests can sit in rocking chairs under a covered patio to see the most beautiful sunset in Tennessee. Visitors can sip on Uncle Nearest cocktails from Toppy’s, a connecting bar named after the CEO’s own horse, while watching the colors of the sunset.
- A Full Retail Store, where visitors can purchase custom apparel, rare bottles of Uncle Nearest, and just about anything else Uncle Nearest makes.
- The Bottling House open to the public, allowing visitors to take part in labeling the whiskey sold in the retail store. All four Uncle Nearest offerings will be bottled here.
- A Hard Hat Tour, offered with every premium tasting. This experience walks visitors through the spaces under construction that will open in 2020, such as the single barrel warehouse and tasting room, as well as the Heritage Hall, an impressive collection of all things invented in Tennessee such as NASCAR, miniature golf, Moon Pies and Mountain Dew, with a special focus on Tennessee Whiskey, Walking Horses and country music.
“When I went to write the invitations for the distillery opening, tears began to stream down my face,” said Weaver. “I’m not a person who cries often, but something about this history just chokes me up. When I wrote the opening line, ‘If Nearest Green could have owned his own distillery, would he have?’ I could only think of this incredible master distiller that likely never had the chance. And posthumously, we are working to ensure his name is cemented in the hearts and minds of people around the world for generations to come. The Nearest Green Distillery is his legacy and that of his descendants. Being able to bring that to life, quite frankly, still blows my mind.”
To build out the Nearest Green Distillery, Weaver has brought together a team of the most reputable designers and builders in the business. The overall design and visitor experience for the Nearest Green Distillery is being overseen by Peggy Noe Stevens & Associates. Peggy Noe Stevens is the first female master bourbon taster, founder of the internationally-acclaimed Bourbon Women, co-founder of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, and the woman behind some of the top distillery visitor experiences in the country. Thom Meek of GHP Environmental + Architecture and former Tennessee Walking Horse champion was brought on in 2017 to help bring this distillery vision to life and continues to serve as the architect on the project. Haynes Service Company is building out the corporate offices, Welcome House, single barrel warehouse and tasting rooms, while Lee Adcock Construction has taken lead on building the distillery, bottling house and rick houses.
Oh and on Weaver’s first visit to Lynchburg back 2016 she learned that the original Dan Call Farm was up for sale. As you watch the video that’s narrated by Jeffrey Wright the house where video was filmed was not a set, that’s the house once owned and occupied by Dan Call. And behind that house is the spring and the location of the original distillery where Uncle Nearest taught Uncle Jack how to distill.
Descendants of Green still work in the Jack Daniel’s Distillery to this day.
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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.