Our Dearest And Nearest
Slaves were not considered citizens nor even human. As a result they were prohibited from holding a patent for their inventions. The U.S. commissioner of patents in 1857 officially ruled that slave inventions could not be patented. In most cases, their masters took credit and profits for the inventions by slaves. Henry Boyd, born into slavery in Kentucky in 1802 created a pre-fabricated bed in what he called the "Boyd Bedstead." Although he purchased his freedom and went into business for himself, employing 23 blacks and whites, he couldn't get a patent for his invention. He then had a white craftsman apply for a patent.
Now there were numerous examples where some slaves and free men made well financially on their creations. In 1919, Benjamin Montgomery invented a steamboat propeller to enable steamboats to operate in shallow waters. But for the majority, there was no was no reward. Nathan Green was one such person.
Jack Daniels. The name alone is synonymous with the State of Tennessee altogether. Over the past century and a half, Jack Daniels is considered the gold standard in Tennessee whiskey. After the Civil War, a then teen aged Jack Daniels ran away from home and was taken in by a local Christian pastor, Daniel Call that also made moonshine whiskey. This was seen as contradictory by southern conservatives in the area. He was given an ultimatum, liquor or the Lord. The lucrative profits generated from his popular brand were hard for the pastor to simply abandon. So he utilized his slave - Nathan Green who was his master distiller as the face of the whiskey making ventures, essentially profiting in the shadows. Nathan Green, affectionately referred to as "Uncle Nearest", taught Jack Daniels the foundations and essentials of the signature Tennessee taste, referred to as the "Lincoln County Process."
This process is a unique filtering of bourbon through sugar maple charcoal. This process has in fact been confirmed to have been brought to Tennessee by Africans brought to America and taught by Nearest Green the most famous Tennessee Whiskey maker of all time. This endowed Uncle Nearest to be Jack Daniels' first master distiller and the first African American master distiller on record. Like so many other slaves, Uncle Nearest Green had been written out of history. The extent to which Green influenced Jack Daniels is what is relatively unknown. It was widely known that a slave turned freedman had an intricate role in assisting Jack Daniels become the household name that it became. However, he was rarely spoken of and thus seemingly written out of history.
In 2019, Lenell's Beverage Boutique of Birmingham, Alabama hosted a tasting of Uncle Nearest in time for the Magic City Classic. The attendance was tremendous. This was an opportunity to literally get a taste of history. Plans were made to have a second tasting earlier in 2020. However, COVID-19 forced the event to be postponed. This past December, the tasting event was resumed. For obvious reasons due to the Corona Virus Pandemic, the turnout was not as large as 2019's event. However, in the midst of the pandemic, and with strict social distancing and masking rules fully enforced, the attendance was very successful. Some customers in fact bought two bottles.
Given the recent awards and accolades to the Uncle Nearest brand, what is drawing people to this up and coming iconic brand and symbol ? The year 2020 will always be a pivotal year in which the pandemic completely up ended the world. A tense U.S. Presidential election along with several civil unrests in US cities stemming from the shootings of Brianna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and George Floyd added fuel on already heightened enflamed racial tensions. This culminated in a larger than usual national celebration of Juneteenth and observation of the 1921 Tulsa, Oklahoma riot on what is known as "Black Wall Street". Under the cry of "Black Lives Matter", many felt the need to honor the legacy of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU's) and Uncle Nearest Whiskey.
For many, supporting Uncle Nearest means that although posthumously, here you had a former slave that was finally receiving his just due more than a century and a half later. He symbolizes receiving payment for not just his services rendered to both Call and Daniels, but to the influence of Tennessee on the the distilling and creation of whiskey. Furthermore, with the recent death of Civil Rights icon John Lewis and the election of now Vice President Kamala Harris - the first woman and woman of African and East Asian ethnicity to be elected as Vice President of America, this year's Black History Month observation wouldn't be complete without a bottle of Uncle Nearest. However, despite the historical sentiments, there's more to Uncle Nearest than the narrative of slavery and race. Uncle Nearest is simply grade A quality Bourbon.
Gordon Everette, a member of the Omega Psi Phi Fraternity Inc., chose to celebrate his 65th birthday with a bottle of Uncle arest paired with a Davidoff cigar. Twenty years Mr. Everette's junior, John Evans chose to celebrate his 45th birthday on February 27th with Uncle Nearest and a Kentucky Fire cigar. Albert Gant, also a member of Omega Psi Phi enjoyed a bottle after a long work week, prior to leaving for vacation. He chose to pair his 1884 Uncle Nearest with a cigar, Quorum.
In its first three years, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has garnered more than 150 awards and accolades, including “World’s Best” by World Whiskies Awards two years in a row, “Top 5 Whiskies in the World,” by Cigar & Spirits Magazine, “Chairman’s Trophy, Platinum and Double Gold” by SIP Awards and “Best American Whiskey,” as well as “Double Gold” at the San Francisco World Spirits Competition. For two years
as head of whiskey production there, Sherri Moore offered to come out of retirement to oversee whiskey production for Uncle Nearest. The story of Uncle Nearest the person and his impact on Jack Daniels and Tennessee whiskey is a unique tale unlike any other. However, race and slavery is not what ultimately sells Uncle Nearest. It is its quality taste which gives credence and credibility to the master distiller title attributed to its namesake.
At Lenell's, people of diverse backgrounds came to learn about this unique blend of history and master craftmanship. According to Gerry Travis, "I first began drinking it in Chicago at a tasting. I love the flavor." Uncle Nearest consists of a mash bill of 90% corn and rye with at least some of the remainder being malted corn all from Tennessee farms. From there its filtered with Maple charcoal via the Lincoln County Process and aged in charred, new American Oak barrels for an undisclosed time.
Uncle Nearest has a foundation of caramel flavor with floating tastes of apple and hay. The sweetness lingers for a while before evolving to a spicy concoction of clove, nutmeg, charcoal, and oak, while also retaining a touch of the hay flavor. That spicy flavors grow into a level on par with chili peppers but with a corn- and grass-like sweetness. The spice seems to be chased by a creamy sweet caramel, which calms the spiciness throughout the mouth. The flavor still contains the corn and hay giving it character while the spiciness comes in and out. In other words, there's a party going on in your mouth with a whole host of variant patrons participating. To consume Uncle Nearest is an experience.
When customers came to Lenell's for the Uncle Nearest tasting, many came out of curiosity, either as bourbon and whiskey connoisseurs , historians, o r people simply desiring a pleasant tasting experience. Most who actually purchased Uncle Nearest, purchased more than one bottle. Uncle Nearest Rep was on hand to explain to first time consumers of who Uncle Nearest was and what the brand now represents - palatable character. Lenell also provided a local band to create a jovial mood despite COVID-19 and social distancing requirements.
"I like the story. My mom and sister went to Tennessee and learned about it", explained Mallory George who also left as a proud owner of Uncle Nearest. Fawn Weaver, the CEO, Co-Founder and Chef Historian of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey invested 2,500 hours into researching Nathan "Uncle Nearest" Green. Tennessee takes it whiskey serious, to the perfected letter. Mrs. Weaver wanted to create a brand that not just honored the role of Nathan Green- "the godfather of Tennessee whiskey", but one that would be the gold standard. As a result, this is the first brand of any alcoholic beverage to honor an African-American.
The second commercial, which was released during the Corona Virus pandemic features the music of legendary Motown writer and producer, Frank Wilson. The song, “Do I Love You," was written and performed by Wilson, and maintains the record as the most expensive Motown vinyl ever sold. Only 250 demo copies of the 7” vinyl record were ever pressed. As few as two are reported to have survived with the rest being intentionally destroyed when Wilson made the decision to be a Motown producer rather than a singer. It is believed that one of those two vinyl albums are in the private collection of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy. The other landed at a famous English Northern soul nightclub in Wigan, England, where the song became a cult classic in the 1960s and ‘70s. It became the most expensive Motown vinyl ever sold when a record dealer from Leicestershire, UK, bought the record for £25,742 the equivalence of $33,640 in US dollars. It is the 10th most expensive vinyl that’s ever been sold, but it was never released in the US. The actual album was officially released in England in 1979 due to "Do I Love You" being a classic hit in that country. How ironic that Frank Wilson was the father of Fawn Weaver. Just as with Nathan Green, Frank Wilson never lived to see the impact of his creation.
For Fawn Weaver, the Uncle Nearest brand represents empowering those who aren't able to empower themselves. Neither Nearest Green, nor his wife, Harriet could read or write as was the case with most slaves. Detailed records show that immediately after the end of the Civil War, he became the wealthiest African-American in Lynchburg, Tennessee and one of the wealthiest men in the area. Given the era in time and the climate of Reconstruction, especially considering the fact that Tennessee is where the Ku Klux Klan was born during this time, for Green to have accumulated such immense wealth, largely from white customers, speaks volumes to the quality of his product.
Fawn Weaver and the corporate executives are committed to passing down on his behalf to each of his descendants, the opportunity to achieve higher learning. The scholarship's first recipients were Matthew McGilberry and Marcus Butler. One of these recipients went on to graduate in 2018 with honors from the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga and went on to receive her graduate degree from the University of Louisiana. We also have or have had 14 descendants of Nearest Green enrolled at Texas A&M, Auburn University, Fisk University, Clark University, Kennesaw State University, Tennessee Tech University, University of St. Thomas, Southwestern Illinois College, College of DuPage, Motlow State, University of Alabama and Missouri State University.
There are four requirements to obtaining a scholarship; 1. Be a direct descendant of Nathan “Nearest” Green (his bloodline), 2.Be a first time college attendee, 3.Maintain a 3.0 GPA throughout their time in college, and 4. Submit transcripts following each semester. Every recipient who maintains a 3.0 GPA or higher will be granted a scholarship for the following semester paying for tuition and books. The Nearest Green Legacy Scholarship not only covers undergraduate and graduate studies Masters, JD, MD but also PhD studies. The scholarship pays for the tutoring for and the taking of the SAT, LSAT, GRE, GMAT and the MCAT. This scholarship is funded by generous donors and proceeds from Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Fawn and Keith Weaver (co-founder of Uncle Nearest) and the book, Jack Daniel’s Legacy.
Uncle Nearest represents a host of factors. Mainly history contained in a bottle, committed to excellence. Uncle Nearest is a mellow relaxing type of whiskey, to be consumed under a state of peace, as opposed to consuming in the midst of celebratory raucous. I would recommend a light jazz, classic 70's or 80's soft rock & soul, or even coffeeshop hip hop, while consuming Uncle Nearest. It provokes a sense of nostalgic transportation into a simpler place in time. After consuming a bold meal, such as gumbo, prepared like only the Gulf Coast can prepare it. Or better yet, Jamaican steamed red snapper with West African Jollof rice, and Indian naan bread. With dimmed lights, and a few Godiva chocolates to add to the caramel taste, Uncle Nearest is topped off with being paired with select cigars. I recommend first and foremost Kentucky Fire as smoked by John Evans due to Kentucky bordering Tennessee and sharing a legacy in Kentucky and Tennessee bourbons and whiskies. Second, I recommend Quorum followed by Ashton Asymmetry, My Father, and San Cristobal Quintessen.
Perhaps the final nugget is that even in the midst of slavery, a man who by the racial norms of his day was either considered to be sub-human, or human chattel, was able to craft something that extended far beyond his understanding, far beyond his existence, and ultimately defined a region. Time surely brings about a change as people are now able to accept the truth behind Jack Daniels' iconic brand. If there is one word that could sum up the entire Uncle Nearest history, legacy, brand, and essence, it would be redemption. A human face and human element was put on the process, seemingly giving it a soul. A man, dehumanized by the institution of slavery has now been redeemed and awarded his humanity and dignity by accepting what he created and financially rewarded posthumously for his efforts, and by issuing collegiate scholarships to his descendants.
There is also redemption by Jack Daniels by acknowledging the forgotten role, and known but unspoken role of Nathan Green. It was the intention of Jack Daniels to include Nathan Green in its 150th celebration efforts. However, given the racially charged 2016 US Presidential election, his was minimally spoken of. However, due to the unearthing of thousands of documents and artifacts that illustrated in great detail the role and recipes used by Green, it became the goal of Jack Daniels to rewrite its history by acknowledging role that black slaves and later as free men, played in the evolution of American whiskey. The foundation of Jack Daniels redemption rested upon the truth.
So heartfelt is the Uncle Nearest story and band that Allure Cigars recently released an Uncle Nearest special edition cigar. This special edition cigar uses some of the finest tobaccos grown in the Dominican Republic and wrapping them inside a Nicaraguan maduro wrapper to then infuse and pair the cigar with the now iconic Uncle Nearest whiskey which is now consumed to celebrate black culture. "We not only want to provide a premium cigar, but also aim to create a unique and enjoyable smoking experience. We believe in celebrating all of life's successes. Our dream is to Make Allure Cigars a household name in boutique cigars." says Fonzie Mayfield, owner of Allure Cigars. To celebrate his 40th birthday, one northern Alabama Uncle Nearest connisieur was gifted a custom made Uncle Nearest birthday cake, made by Flie Cakes of Madison, Alabama.
What the story also encapsulates is yet another aspect of American exceptionalism. Nathan Green represents the ultimate underdog story in that in the midst of this nation's dark history and "ultimate sin" was a man that was able to create a superior product enjoyed by millions. With the humanizing of Nathan Green, comes a sense of mystique. Aside from his whiskey expertise, who was he really as a person ? How did he see himself and his sense of self worth. We do know that he did not share in the typical rigors and horrors of plantation life as a field hand. However, although he didn't have the freedom of mobility, he did have the freedom of thought. Despite not being formally educated, he was however of a superior intelligence. Given all that he endured, and his immense contribution to the national treasure of this country, although much of his latter years is shrouded in mystery, culminating in his exact burial location being unknown, his legacy lives on. This national can use him as a focal point to provoke reconciliation and a commitment to modern excellence in all of this nation's endeavors. And that is how we will make America great again, or by most conclusions, make America greater.