New whiskey honors lesser-known distiller of well-known US brand

FILE - In this May 20, 2009 file photo, a glass of Jack Daniel's whiskey is examined after being taken from an aging barrel in one of the barrel houses at the distillery in Lynchburg, Tenn. Producers of Kentucky bourbon and Tennessee whiskey scored another round of U.S. sales growth in 2014, while exports topped $1 billion for the second straight year, a distilled spirits trade group said Tuesday, Feb. 3, 2015. (AP Photo/Mark Humphrey, File)

WASHINGTON — There’s a new whiskey making its way to bars and stores across the United States, but in many ways, it’s not new at all.

In fact, it dates back nearly 200 years.

Fawn Weaver is the force behind Uncle Nearest, a premium whiskey brand from Lynchburg, Tennessee. It’s a spirit she launched after learning about one of the most influential people in the whiskey business: a man by the name of Nearest Green.

Weaver, a New York Times best-selling author and daughter of Motown Records legend Frank Wilson, was in Singapore when she first read about Green in a 2016 article in The New York Times. It reported Green (originally Nathan) was the one who taught Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey when the two were living on the same farm in the mid-1800s.

Weaver explained, “Nearest Green is the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States.”

The story told was not news to descendants on both sides of the Green and Daniel families, but it changed the way Jack Daniel’s distillery now portrays its history in the visitor center.

The article was also news to Weaver, who became somewhat obsessed with Green’s influence on the iconic American brand, and it prompted her to uproot her life in California and move to Lynchburg (more specifically, to the farm where Green and Daniel met and worked) in order to unearth Green’s past and further his legacy.

These days, she is doing just that with a label that bears his name — Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey — made in a distillery on the 270-acre Tennessee Walking Horse farm she purchased.

“When it comes to whiskey, when it comes to American whiskey, we can no longer talk about American whiskey and not put Nearest Green at the top of that list,” said Weaver, who is also writing a book about Green and his importance in the spirits industry.

The Uncle Nearest distillery is about one year away from opening to the public (Weaver said it’s currently being used as a place to educate bartenders and professionals in the beverage industry), but its product can be found in more than 40 states — Maryland included, and D.C. — and 11 countries.

“One hundred years from now, when people are walking into the store and they see Johnnie, Jack, Jim — they’ll also see Nearest,” Weaver said.

“That’s the legacy that we are trying to fulfill.”

To find out what bars are serving and which stores are selling Uncle Nearest, check out the map on the brand’s website.

To learn more about the history of Green, watch Weaver’s segment on CBS This Morning:

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