Meet The Woman Behind The Whiskey Brand Honoring The Slave Who Helped Jack Daniels
By DeAnna Taylor
The world is finally coming to know the man that is Nathan “Nearest” Green and it’s about time that they did.
If you aren’t familiar with who he is, he is the slave who is credited for helping Jack Daniels learn the art of whiskey making.
Uncle Nearest, as he was known, is the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States. He also helped perfect the Lincoln County Process, a requirement in being categorized as Tennessee Whiskey, making him the godfather of Tennessee Whiskey.
Now, entrepreneur and author Fawn Weaver, is ensuring that Uncle Nearest’s legacy never dies.
“In my lifetime, there has never been a major American brand known around the world, attributed to an African American,” Fawn Weaver, CEO and Master Distiller of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey told Travel Noire.
“We [African Americans] weren’t allowed to patent, we weren’t allowed to trademark. We’ve contributed so much to history, but there’s no proof.”
After reading the story of Uncle Nearest and his contributions to the spirits industry, Weaver was drawn to learn more. What started as a personal research project led to her interviewing over 100 of Nearest’s relatives, all before the thought of creating a whiskey brand and opening a distillery came into play.
She was so inspired to honor Nearest and his family that she created the Nearest Green Foundation, a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization. Under this organization, Weaver built a scholarship program for Green’s descendants, which allows anyone in his bloodline that gets into college to have their tuition and books fully paid.
Of course, the most standout part of what Weaver has done is creating the whiskey brand under the name of the former slave. What’s ironic is that outside of enjoying Bourbon as a drink, Weaver was never interested in the spirit making industry.
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is the first major spirit brand to pay homage to an African American. It is now the fastest-growing independent-owned Whiskey brand in the country in U.S. history.
Descendants of Uncle Nearest work closely with Fawn throughout the process as well.
“When I first took this on, many of his relatives wanted to stay in the background. But as we have grown, more and more are getting involved, which has always been welcomed. It’s a beautiful thing,” Weaver said.
You can find the brand in over 6,000 stores and bars across all 50 states as well as 10 countries.
“Seeing excellence come from a brand attributed to a person of color, is important.”
Weaver and her team will open the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee on September 14. They recently held a preview party where nearly 3,000 people were in attendance.
The distillery will open in phases. Phase 1 will allow for tours and tastings, but the 270-acre property is still very much an active construction site. Weaver wants fans and supporters to be able to partake in all steps in this journey as it unfolds.
“Our scheduled tours for opening day are already sold out. During our phase 1 rollout, we will only offer tours on Saturday and Sunday. We may add Friday later if those days continue to sell out.”
Taking on a task of this magnitude hasn’t been easy. She recalls that her biggest hurdle in getting this done wasn’t due to race, but due to being a woman.
When asked to leave aspiring business owners with a few words of wisdom, here’s what Weaver had to say: “Keep pushing! Failure isn’t failure, unless you give up before you’ve given yourself a chance to succeed.”
DeAnna Taylor is a criminal defense Attorney turned travel blogger, author, and writer. While Charlotte, NC (her hometown) is her base, she's always somewhere on a plane. Catch her on IG: @brokeandabroadlife.