Fawn Weaver's Premium Whiskey Brand Honors the Legacy of Uncle Nearest, the Enslaved Man Who Pioneered Tennessee Whiskey

Learn the origin story of the master distiller, now credited with teaching Jack Daniel, along with the CEO and founder who is sharing his story through every bottle.

fawn weaver of uncle nearest
Photo: Courtesy of Uncle Nearest

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Behind CEO Fawn Weaver's whiskey brand is the story of Nearest Green, a formerly enslaved Black man fondly known as Uncle Nearest. Uncle Nearest was a pioneer of distilling Tennessee whiskey, and also taught Jack Daniel the process in the 1850s. However, his work as a master distiller and whiskey trailblazer long went uncredited. That is, until the last decade.

Weaver first learned about the man who inspired her brand in 2016, thanks to an article in The New York Times. The headline of the article read, "Jack Daniel's Embraces a Secret Ingredient: Help from a Slave." After reading the story, Weaver realized that she couldn't think of any ubiquitous American brand that could trace its roots back to an African American.

"We know we were there at the beginning of tons of American companies, but with an inability to trademark or patent, our significance in many companies was lost over time," says Weaver. "In this instance, not only was it coming to light that the white preacher and distillery that had previously been credited with teaching a young Jack Daniel to make whiskey may have been incorrectly credited, but that it was an enslaved man working on his property who was the likely teacher."

The entrepreneur took it upon herself to learn more about Uncle Nearest by bringing together 20 historians, archeologists, genealogists, and conservators, and pulling documents and artifacts from six states. "I brought them all back to the 313-acre property where Jack Daniel and Nearest Green both lived, where Nearest Green was the only known master distiller for Distillery No. 7, where Nearest taught Jack to make whiskey in that very distillery, and where Jack later created Jack Daniel Distillery," says Weaver.

By the time she and her team launched Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey in July 2017, they had gathered thousands of original documents and artifacts and knew they had to have the most researched brand story of all time.

Honoring Uncle Nearest

Before launching Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Weaver interviewed nearly 100 descendants of Nearest Green and Jack Daniel. She ultimately found that the best way to honor Uncle Nearest was by making whiskey. "We built this company much faster than what would have been ideal, as I wasn't sure how Jack Daniel's (the company Jack's family sold in the late 1950s) would handle learning of the intention of our brand," says Weaver.

She built the company with a defense-first mentality and pressed on until the brand launched with a sourced whiskey, meaning it was made by a different distillery. "Although we would enter the market with sourced whiskey, we began producing our own in 2017, and by 2022, every bit of whiskey in our bottles was our own," she says. "While working with a partner distillery to produce Uncle Nearest, we also began building out our own $50 million distillery in Shelbyville, Tenn." Phase one of the distillery opened to the public on September 5, 2019, and two and three on June 19, 2021.

fawn weaver and victoria eady butler
Courtesy of Uncle Nearest

Female-Led Team

Weaver has an all-women leadership team and a 50 percent women-employed company to help her grow Uncle Nearest every step of the way. Her right hand in the business is master blender Victoria Eady Butler. "She is a fifth generation Nearest Green descendant and has been named by top industry critics and publications as Master Blender of the Year four times," says Weaver. "When Whisky Magazine gave her that honor two years in a row, that was the first time in the magazine's history that they gave back-to-back honors to the same person."

Eady Butler blends each of Uncle Nearest's seven unique expressions, which all feature a different recipe. Aside from the rye and unfiltered whiskeys, Uncle Nearest expressions have a three-step filtration process. This includes the Lincoln County Process, which is the unique filtering method that Nearest Green perfected. The key in this practice is the use of sugar maple charcoal, which turns straight bourbon into Tennessee whiskey.

fawn weaver

When you are an African American or woman who has figured out a pathway to success within an industry that has historically been reserved for white males, it becomes your responsibility to turn around and pull as you climb.

— fawn weaver

Leaving a Legacy

From being the only woman in the room at large conferences when entering her industry to now seeing women running half of the conglomerates, Weaver knows that Uncle Nearest helped open the door and also allow more people of color in the space. "Until Uncle Nearest, there had never been a successful spirits company led by a person of color," she says. "Now that barrier is no longer there, as every industry banker and investor in this country has had eyes on Uncle Nearest and are on the lookout for the next Black-owned, BIPOC-owned, female-owned spirits company."

Weaver aims to pass down this legacy of excellence for all women and people of color leaders to follow in her footsteps and make Uncle Nearest the seventh spirit conglomerate in her industry. "What we have added to the spirits industry, and what we continue to add daily, is the personification of excellence," she says. "Our company has 10 guiding principles, and principle number one is, 'We do it with excellence or we don't do it at all.'"

uncle nearest premium whiskey
Courtesy of Uncle Nearest

Uplifting Others

As part of Weaver's mission to honor Uncle Nearest, she and her team established the Nearest Green Legacy Scholarship Fund, before selling their first bottle of whiskey. They pay for every college-age descendant of Nearest Green to go to the university of their choosing.

The Nearest Green Foundation and the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative allow Weaver and her team to further their passion for education, and they have also begun investing in minority entrepreneurs in the spirits industry. "We launched the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund in 2021 and have since invested millions of dollars in Sorel Liqueur, Hella Cocktail Company, Equiano Rum, and Freeland Spirits," she says. "We will continue investing in those who operate at the same level of excellence as Uncle Nearest."

As she continues her work, Weaver will always continue to uplift underrepresented communities and be a guiding light in her industry. "When you are an African American or woman who has figured out a pathway to success within an industry that has historically been reserved for white males, it becomes your responsibility to turn around and pull as you climb," she says.

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