Updated: Feb 3, 2021
The history of Nathan “Nearest” Green, like many African American men and women, have been withheld and erased, but hidden no more.
Nearest Green, was the first African-American master distiller who taught Jack Daniel about distilling, the process of sugar maple charcoal filtering, and made Jack Daniel's into the empire it is today.
Green was born, enslaved, around 1820 in Maryland. He was enslaved on a farm for a baptist preacher, named Dan Call where he learned to be a skilled distiller. Call introduced Jack Daniel to Green and said that Nearest Green was the best whiskey maker. Green took Daniel under his wings, worked with him side by side, and taught him how to make Tennessee whiskey.
Jack Daniel purchased the distillery from Call for $25.00. Daniel asked Green, who was now a free man, to work for him where he became a master distiller. Green played an important role in the success of Jack Daniel's.
I made reservations for the Jack Daniel's Distillery Walking Tour in Lynchburg, TN to learn more about Nearest Green.
Everywhere you look there are barrels with charcoal all around the distillery.
This is the black open furnace. All of the sugar maple charcoal for the whiskey mellowing process is made here.
Company photo with Jack Daniel, in the center, wearing a white hat. To the left is Nearest Green's son, George Green.
Nearest Green's son, George. There are no known photos of Nearest Green. George was born June 13, 1863, and died January 15, 1941, at the age of 77. He was married to Mariah Whitaker Green and had three children Reak, Townsend, and Emma Lou.
Behind the Jack Daniel statue is the natural spring that provides water to make whiskey. The limestone rock removes iron from the water that gives whiskey an unpleasant color and taste. The temperature of the water is around 56 degrees year-round.
I'm standing next to the Jack Daniel statue. The sculptor made the statue tall. Jack Daniel was 5'2" tall and I'm 5'10." Nearest Green is more deserving of a statue right next to Jack Daniel.
Unfortunately, the tour guide talked briefly (and I do mean briefly) about Nearest Green.
Jack Daniel’s or Old No. 7, was founded in 1875. The Company credited Dan Call, Green's slave owner, for teaching Jack Daniel how to make whiskey but finally acknowledged that Green taught Daniel. Nearest Green played an integral role in the success of Jack Daniel's.
I was able to go inside the bottling factory. It was fascinating to see the workers on the assembly line. 25-ounce bottles are loaded to the assembly line, sent through the filling station at a rate of 1,700 per hour, cork lids are installed on the bottles and the workers seal each Jack Daniel's bottle with a small label by hand. The workers have to inspect each bottle for defects and blemishes and then put the bottles in display cases. Employees get a free bottle of Jack Daniel's every first Friday of the month.
The Nearest Green Foundation is a nonprofit organization founded by Keith and Fawn Weaver. The organization is to assist Nearest Green descendants in education from grade school to obtaining their Ph.D.
The newest initiative, The Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative are for African Americans who have a desire to work on the executive level in the whiskey industry that is predominantly white men.
The Uncle Nearest brand was co-founded by entrepreneur Fawn Weaver in 2017. She read an article in the New York Times about Nearest Green. That led to her do research and reach out to the descendants of Green. Weaver told Fox Business "We know what Tennessee whiskey is because of Jack Daniels, and so we don’t take away the title ‘Father of Tennessee Whiskey’ from him, but Nearest Green is definitely the Godfather of Tennessee whiskey."
Victoria Butler, the first African American master blender in the history of the American spirits industry and the great-great-granddaughter of Nearest Green curated the first batch of 1884 Small Batch Whiskey. Butler is the 2021 American Regional Winner of Master Distiller/ Master Blender of the Year.
Victoria E. Butler (Photo Credit: Nearest Green Distillery)
The 1884 Small Batch Whiskey is a 7 year aged whiskey blend and 93 proof. 1884 was the year Green retired from distilling. His three sons, George, Lewis, and Eli Green, continued to work at Jack Daniel's Distillery. The descendants played a huge part in the success of Jack Daniel's. ($49. 99 per bottle).
The 1856 Premium Whiskey is an 8-14-year aged whiskey blend and 100 proof and represents the year Nearest Green perfected the Lincoln County Process that is required for whiskey to be considered Tennessee Whiskey. The Lincoln County Process was likely brought to the U.S. by enslaved men and women from Africa using charcoal to filter water and purify food. ($59.95 per bottle)
The 1856 Premium Whiskey comes with a little booklet about the story of Nearest Green.
Inside the booklet comes with a spirit recipe. During the pandemic, Nearest Green Distillery provides virtual happy hours that include a virtual tasting with cocktails kits that can be picked up or delivered for those who live out of state.
Uncle Nearest Whiskey is the fastest growing spirit in history, the best whiskey bourbon in 2019 and 2020, and the first distiller that is owned by an African American woman, Fawn Weaver, with a board that is all women.
Uncle Nearest is currently available in 50 states, 148 countries, 6,000 stores, restaurants, and bars.
The Nearest Green Distillery broke ground in 2019 in Shelbyville, TN. Due to the pandemic, the grand opening was delayed and is scheduled to open in Spring 2021. The distillery will have a music venue, has over 60 horses, a tasting room, and provide tours.
Nearest Green Whiskey Distillery (Credit: Nearest Green Distillery)