For most of Jack Daniel’s Tennessee Whiskey’s 150 year history, popular lore held that the brand’s namesake was an orphan who learned how to distill whiskey at the foot of a preacher who’d taken him in — guy by the name of Dan Call. The popular lore, it turns out, was poppycock. Thanks in large part to dogged research by author Fawn Weaver, we now know that the man who actually taught a teenaged Jack Daniel how to coax precious hooch from a still was Nathan “Nearest” Green. He was a slave, which goes a long way towards explaining why his story was lost in time.
The Thirteenth Amendment abolished slavery in 1865, and a year later, Jack Daniel opened his eponymous distillery. He hired Nearest Green as his distiller, and the rest is history. Real history. Un-whitewashed.
Nearest hailed from Maryland, where he presumably learned the ins and outs of distillation. It’s unclear when he arrived in Lynchburg, Tennessee, but what can be confirmed is that he is the first African-American master distiller on record in the United States. And now, the name of one of the most influential distillers the world never knew is finally where it rightfully belongs, emblazoned on a bottle of whiskey.
To be clear, Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey is not a Jack Daniel’s product. It’s an independently owned brand that launched in July. Plans are afoot for a distillery, tasting room and music venue in Shelbyville, TN, but for now Uncle Nearest sources their Aged Whiskey ($59.99) from two Tennessee distilleries, one of which is rumored to be the Cascade Hollow Distilling Company in Tullahoma (citing a non-disclosure agreement, Uncle Nearest would not confirm the names of the distilleries). Their Tennessee Silver whiskey ($44.99) is produced at the Corsair Distillery in Nashville. Production of the whiskey is overseen by Sherrie Moore, a 31-year veteran in the Tennessee whiskey business and former director of operations for Jack Daniel’s.
The Tennessee Silver is double distilled and triple charcoal mellowed using a proprietary system Moore drew by hand. It rests in char #4 American Oak barrels until the desired flavor profile is achieved—a cross between mescal and white Scotch. The color is removed after aging using natural carbon from coconut shells.
The Premium Aged whiskey is a light caramel-colored whiskey that smells of dried grass, peaches and maple syrup. It’s made to appeal to those who enjoy whiskey on the sweeter side. But don’t let that oatmeal raisin cookie flavor fool you—at 100 proof, this confectionery treat packs a wallop. Best served over a little ice, or in a cocktail with lemon juice and honey.