Behind the label: How Uncle Nearest premium whiskey was created and who it pays tribute to

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CLEVELAND (WJW) — It would probably be safe to say that there isn’t a bar in the United States that doesn’t serve Jack Daniel’s Whiskey.

Jack Daniel’s made Tennessee whiskey a household name. And the man who showed Jack how to do it was an enslaved man named Nathan Green, who everyone called “Nearest.”

“We know that he was the first known African American master distiller. We also know that he was the first master distiller for Jack Daniel and we also know that he is basically the difference between Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey,” said author and entrepreneur Fawn Weaver, who came across the story of Green a few years ago.

She has since interviewed dozens of his descendants who tell the story of a man who took a young Jack Daniel under his wing and taught the distiller his process of refining and aging whiskey.

“It is a process called the Lincoln County process. It’s what Nearest Green taught, he utilized it in his own whiskey, and it is why we know Tennessee whiskey as we know today,” Weaver said.

Nearest Green was key to the founding of Daniel’s business in 1866.

There are no known pictures of him, but his descendants worked closely with Daniel’s through his lifetime and today, some of them still work at the distillery.

So why didn’t a lot of people know about Nearest Green? Weaver said the story was always there, it just needed to be told and they’re not just telling it with a book.

In 2017, Weaver, the Green family and her partners began making Uncle Nearest premium whiskey, several varieties in fact.

She is currently in the process of opening a distillery in Tennessee on a 270 acre former horse farm.

Green’s descendants are also a part of the process, with younger members receiving full college scholarships. But it’s about Green’s excellence becoming a household name. You can find the whiskey in thousands of places now.

“The elders are in absolute heaven because every single time they go into a bar or restaurant they’re able to say that’s my ancestor,” Weaver said.

She said the Nearest Green story could have disappeared into history, but they’re determined to share his life and whiskey he created with everyone.

“To make sure that 100 years from now, when they’re pulling bottles off the shelf and looking at the back bar, the top shelf, that they’re also going to see Johnny Walker, Jim Beam, Jack Daniel and Nearest Green,” Weaver said.

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