Uncle Nearest - FLY BHM
In honor of the 2018 Magic City Classic, Lenell’s Boutique of Norwood chose to honor the first African American (on record) master distiller in the US, and believed to be responsible for helping perfect the Lincoln County Process. Nearly 50 people attended this historical event to pay tribute to Nathan Green, known historically as “Uncle Nearest”, the best whiskey maker the world never knew”. Uncle Nearest is a story unlike no other. Nathan Green was a slave originally from Maryland, but apparently sold to a plantation in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the early 1800’s.Tennessee, long since heralded as the greatest exporter of whiskey has recently undergone a renaissance of whiskey distilling and interest. Such a success this event was, Lenell’s chose to host a second tasting session in honor of Black History Month.
Until recently, the most widely accepted story is that Jack Daniels, while as a teen under the tutelage of a local preacher and farmer, learned to distill. Apparently learning from a regional master craftsman, Jack Daniels would later perfect his own recipe and process, thus creating his own brand in 1866. From that point on Jack Daniels became the crown jewel of Tennessee whiskey and an icon of the state. However, in preparing for the 150th anniversary in 2016, historians discovered a startling revelation that would literally rewrite not just the history of jack Daniels’ Whiskey but Tennessee whiskey altogether.
It was Uncle Nearest who taught Jack Daniels his superb distilling techniques that let to Gentleman Jack becoming the gold standard. Much of this evidence was researched and revealed by fawn Weaver. As it turned out, slaves played a major role in the history of whiskey making in the US. Although knowledge, most of it passed down through the ages and generations clearly show that slaves had a significant hand in the history of Tennessee whiskey making, this was the most accurate and detailed revelation.
Fawn Weaver recently launched the Nearest Green Foundation that accurately portrays Uncle Nearest’s legacy. She went on to create a coalition that would launch the Uncle Nearest 1856 brand and bought the 313-acre farm in which Uncle Nearest taught Jack Daniels his artisan craft. If anything this shatters the myth of slaves being incompetent and incapable of offering instructions to their white masters, let alone creating a product that generates billions of dollars in revenue a century and a half later – Tennessee Gold.
Evidence uncovered by Weaver shows that Green still had a hand in assisting Jack Daniels side by side for decades after the Civil War. In order to bring the remarkable story to light, Weaver interviewed more than 100 people connected to Green’s story, including his 106-year-old granddaughter and other descendants of Green. The story of Uncle Nearest and the relationship between he and Jack Daniels is that of many untold stories of how some slaves related to their owners. But most importantly, it is a story that needs to be told. Many slaves were in fact inventors and invented many products that their owners took credit for. So what, or how much is Uncle Nearest’s brand worth in the greater scheme and legacy of things?
Clearly Green didn’t copyright his formula and process but his influence is clearly seen. When Weaver asked some of Green’s descendants as to what they would like to see done to honor their forefather, their response was, ‘No one owes us anything. We know that. But putting his name on a bottle, letting people know what he did, would be great.’ This new revelation and twist has so many narratives. This year, 2019 marks the 400th anniversary of slaves first bought the America. What is so significant about the true story of Uncle Nearest and his relationship to the Jack Daniels brand is that Jack Daniels wants to present a clear, concise, and factual story by openly
acknowledging Uncle Nearest as the first African American master distiller, having taught Jack Daniels how to distill. This story has always been known to locals in the area, or at least slaves had a major hand in the development of Tennessee whiskey. Many slave owners took credit for the inventions and creations of their slaves. However, Jack Daniels wants to openly present the truth. Given the periods of history in which this story evolved, that of the mid-19th century, and Reconstruction, many citizens would have had a serious problem with giving credit and credence to that of a slave, especially considering that it was a superb product.
Given the fact that most slaves in the Americas came from West Africa, many slaves were no stranger to whiskey and liquor making abilities. Many West African alcohol or sodabi were distilled from fermented palm tree sap.
Uncle Nearest generally follows the Lincoln County Process – which they believe Green helped perfect – of letting the whiskey drip through tightly-packed sugar maple charcoal for 14 days to filter it before aging in new American oak barrels. The Lincoln County Process is a step used in producing almost all Tennessee whiskeys. The whiskey is filtered through or steeped in charcoal chips before going into the casks for aging. The process is named for Lincoln County, Tennessee, which was the location of Jack Daniel's distillery at the time of its
establishment. For Jack Daniel's, the charcoal used is created onsite from stacks of two by two inch sugar maple timbers. The timbers are primed with 140 proof Jack Daniel's and then ignited under large hoods to prevent any sparks. Once they reach the charred state, the stacks are sprayed with water to prevent complete combustion. The resulting charcoal is then fed through a grinder to produce bean-size pellets that are packed into 10-foot vats used to filter impurities from the 140 proof whiskey. The whiskey is then reduced with water to 125 proof for aging. It was this process that was taught to Jack Daniel by Uncle Nearest.
It has an obvious rich copper and amber colored whiskey with a distinct maple charcoal sweetness taste with a touch of chocolate, honey, vanilla, and butterscotch. The dominant aspect would be that of the maple syrup. Upon its immediate entrance into the olfactory palace, one can immediately smell the aroma of sweet molasses and that of grass, charcoal, and nutmeg. The taste matches the smell. The chocolate slightly disguises the caramel flavor with distant and elusiveness of apple and hay. The sweetness establishes itself briefly and then introduces a spicy combination of nutmeg, cinnamon, oak, and charcoal. That spiciness leads one to believe that it will get spicier by the moment but the maple and corn sweetness builds up to contain the spiciness. After swallowing, it seems as if there is a volley between the spice and hay and the caramel and corn. It clearly makes you think as the blend seemingly talks to you.
Given the history of Uncle nearest and his hallmark product, the 1856 bottled brand is that of a national treasure. The quality and taste of Uncle Nearest is just as powerful as the story. In an effort to honor the legacy of the man and the brand, Jack Daniels has agreed to pay full scholarships to college for the descendants. This was made possible by the creation of the Nearest Green Foundation (NGF). The NGF is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization dedicated to preserving and honoring the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States. Currently, ten of Nearest Green's descendants have full undergraduate and graduate scholarships from NGF at universities across the country, from the University of Tennessee to Texas A&M to Auburn University. Funding is provided by sales of Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey. This past Super Bowl LIII, Uncle Nearest debuted its first commercial, under the mantra, “The best whiskey maker the world never knew”. The one minute long commercial aired in 24 major media markets during "The Late Show with Stephen Colbert Post-Super Bowl Special" and is narrated by Emmy award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright.
In just a little more than a year, Uncle Nearest garnered 13 medals in 13 months, including a Double Gold Medal at the China Wine and Spirits Awards, New York World Wine and Spirits Competition, a Gold Medal at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition, , and two Gold Medals at the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition. The Cigar & Spirits Magazine also named it one of the Top 5 Whiskies in the World and was one of two brands to take home the top prize of "World's Best" at the 2019 World Whiskies Awards produced by Whisky Magazine.