Researchers and historians are discovering more about African Americans’ role in running distilleries since our country’s inception; however, documentation of these workers’ contributions to early whiskey production remains sparse, as few enslavers saw fit to give credit to such achievements.

For instance, although more than 150 years went by without confirming America’s first known African American master distiller Nearest Green, what is clear today is that it was Green who taught Jack Daniel the art of whiskey distillation — perhaps being among those responsible for Jack Daniel’s success as one of the most the popular brands in the world.

Yet, this revelation might never have surfaced without the efforts of Fawn Weaver, CEO and founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Shelbyville, Tenn. 

In 2016, after learning about Green and Jack Daniel’s plans to honor him, Weaver devoted herself to researching Green’s life and work, gathering thousands of documents that verified — and expanded on — Green’s import to the Jack Daniel’s brand.

“I realized the significance of the story of Nearest Green,” Weaver says. “He wasn’t just the first African American distiller on record in the United States. He to this day remains the only one of any major brands — period. 

“And we’re not just talking about whiskey, we’re talking about any spirit,” Weaver continues. “When I went to the family I asked, ‘what is the one thing you think should happen to honor Nearest?’ They responded, ‘we think his name should be on a bottle.’” 

In 2017, Weaver not only followed up on that suggestion, she founded Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, joined by Chief Business Officer Katharine Jerkens and, shortly after, Victoria Eady Butler, the great-great-granddaughter of the company’s namesake.

Today, where the company continues to share the story of Nearest Green, Jerkens points to a number of ways in which it aims to bring this story to the world.

Starting with our CEO’s ability to share this through TV, print and social media, “which has yielded billions of impressions for the brand and the man,” another great tool we have is a film narrated by Jeffrey Wright, Jerkens says.

“When that debuted in March 2019, we were able to take this 10 minute film narrated by one of the greatest voices I have ever heard, and send the story to anyone — and the impact has been felt throughout the globe,” she says. “Additionally, we have our four time Master Blender of the Year, Victoria Eady Butler, who travels the globe telling our story, and we also have team members throughout the United States and abroad that are sharing Nearest Green’s story every single day.

“One of our guiding principles is ‘Pound the Rock,’ and this team is the hardest working team I have ever worked with in my 20-plus-year career in hospitality and spirits,” Jerkens continues.

Apart from the rest

While the current whiskey market remains robust, when it comes to authenticity and excellence, Jerkens notes that Uncle Nearest’s portfolio stands out from the crowd, 

“Uncle Nearest isn’t just a whiskey or just a story. He was a real live person. He is a legacy. Since day one, we have been building the legacy of a man whose contributions were lost in time, and that we now celebrate daily,” she explains. “Now, you can have a brand honoring an incredible person like Uncle Nearest, but without a premium whiskey to back it up, the brand wouldn’t be where it is today.

“Being the most awarded bourbon or American Whiskey for 2019, 2020, 2021 and 2022 shows the world that we are honoring Uncle Nearest’s legacy with excellence,” she continues. “One way or another, if you try the whiskey first and love it, you are then even more in love when you hear about Nearest Green. If you know who Uncle Nearest was, and then you taste the whiskey, you are also incredibly captivated. I haven’t seen a brand in my lifetime that can do both so seamlessly.”

Moreover, with consumer trends from experimentation with flavors and finishes, to creating premium ready-to-serve cocktails, Uncle Nearest is positioned to deliver on all things rare.


Uncle Nearest Whiskey in all 50 states
With distribution in all 50 States and Washington D.C., since July 2019, Uncle Nearest Whiskey can be found throughout the United States in key retailers, bars, restaurants and hotels.
Photo by Whitney Thomas Photography/ courtesy of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey


“Since COVID, the consumer continues to look to the ultra-premium and luxury categories,” Jerkens explains. “When you could no longer go out and get a finely crafted cocktail, you had to become a home bartender. Though none of us could be happier to get back out in the world and support our favorite hotels, restaurants and bars, consumers got a taste for the premium, and that has not gone away.

“Beyond the fact that whiskey consumers are choosing more premium brands, we have been able to help share and grow awareness of the Tennessee Whiskey category, and engage in lively debates about Bourbon versus Tennessee Whiskey with consumers everywhere,” she continues. “To clear up that debate, Tennessee Whiskey is Bourbon with one added step — the Lincoln County Process, which was perfected by Nearest Green.”

When it comes to Uncle Nearest’s most successful SKU, Jerkens doesn't single any one out.

“Well, if you are lucky, you have been able to find all of them at the same time. But, not sure anyone has been that lucky — yet,” she says. “We launched with Uncle Nearest 1856 in 2017, and then launched our 1884 Small Batch in 2019. Since then, we have launched several SKUs that are available exclusively at our Nearest Green Distillery. In November 2022, we introduced our Straight Rye Whiskey at 100 Proof, which has been met with critical acclaim and has now made many a bourbon lover a rye lover as well. 

“When looking at the reports we have available to us, we are seeing that both 1856 and 1884 are very equally pulled through, and we know that the Straight Rye Whiskey is joining them,” she continues.

An American brand for all

As the Uncle Nearest brand is rooted in such a rich history, the company not only continues to share the legacy of Nearest Green with its premium whiskeys, but also works to honor those in the communities it serves.

For instance, this January, Uncle Nearest announced the launch of its HBCU Old Fashioned Challenge, a nationwide initiative to raise $1 million dollars for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). 

“Beyond awareness and shining a light on HBCUs, there will be a positive financial impact on each of these universities from not just our initiative, but from other initiatives that will be sparked out of this idea we had,” Jerkens says. “We are still in the middle of reporting on all of the old fashioned cocktails sold during January, February and March, however, we have no doubt that we have achieved our goal.

“Once these 58 HBCUs receive their donations, it is up to them to decide how the money will be spent, but we knew that it was time to shine a light on HBCUs in this country, and we believe this was the most impactful way to do it,” she continues. “We will always work closely with HBCUs through alumni and sports initiatives, and more.”

The company also is taking its community engagement on the road. Beginning April 11, Weaver set out on her 2023 CEO tour: Thank You for Your Service. Thank You for Your Support.

Although Weaver’s past two CEO Thank You Tours focused on thanking the managers and owners of bars, restaurants and liquor stores, for this year’s tour, Weaver is embarking on a 16-week journey, visiting military bases nationwide to express her gratitude to one of the brand’s most supportive communities.

With Uncle Nearest’s main focus on the United States, “the future of the spirits industry and the premium whiskey category is as diverse and inclusive as America,” Weaver says.

“Forty years from now, that generation will not even be able to fathom a time when this industry wasn’t as colorful and balanced in gender as America,” she adds. “Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is the first whiskey — ever — to commemorate an African American and it’s the first major American spirit brand to be founded by and led by a Black woman. 

“More than 90% of spirit sales sold in the U.S. were founded by white males,” Weaver continues. “There are six spirit conglomerates who sell the majority of the spirits in the U.S., and each one was founded by a white male. Uncle Nearest is the first. Science has long proven that women have better palates. Our whiskey proves it.”

As far as aspirations for the future goes, Weaver points to the Mount Rushmore of whiskey essentially having three heads all this time — Jim, Johnnie, and Jack. “We’re carving the fourth one,” she says.