Uncle Nearest, the Hero of Tennessee Whiskey | The Well

Welcome to the latest edition of The Well, where we uncork the tales behind the spirits we cherish. Today, we’re toasting to a figure whose legacy in whiskey-making is as rich as the drink itself: Nathan “Uncle Nearest” Green, the hero behind Tennessee Whiskey.

The Story Behind Uncle Nearest

Uncle Nearest’s story takes us over 160 years back to Lynchburg, Tennessee. Here, on the farm of Reverend Dan Call, a distillery quietly produced a whiskey so smooth and maple-sweet that it captivated all who tasted it. The mastermind behind this elixir was Uncle Nearest, a skilled Black slave who introduced the ‘Lincoln method’ of charcoal filtering, a technique he carried from his West African roots. This method, integral to Tennessee whiskey, involves filtering the spirit through sugar maple tree charcoal, giving it a unique smoothness and character.

In the 1850s, a young white boy named Jasper, drawn by the allure of the distillery, begged Reverend Call for a chance to learn the craft. Uncle Nearest, under Call’s directive, became Jasper’s mentor. Jasper, whose entrepreneurial spirit was as fiery as the whiskey he sold, soon began distributing this exceptional spirit far and wide under his now-famous moniker, Jack Daniel.

The turn of events following the 13th Amendment’s ratification in 1865 brought freedom to Uncle Nearest. In a poignant twist of fate, Jasper, now Jack Daniel, acquired the distillery and invited Uncle Nearest to continue his whiskey-making journey as his first master distiller. This partnership continued until Uncle Nearest retired.

Tragically, Uncle Nearest’s contributions faded into obscurity for years, overshadowed by the towering legacy of Jack Daniel’s. Yet, the recent establishment of a new distillery, mere steps away from its renowned counterpart and named in honor of Nathan Green, revives his story. Today, Uncle Nearest’s descendants continue his legacy, crafting whiskey that’s a tribute to his mastery and resilience.

The bond between the Jack Daniel’s and Uncle Nearest distilleries remain a testament to their intertwined histories. As we reflect on Uncle Nearest’s life and legacy, let us remember the impact one individual can have on a craft, a culture, and an industry. Here’s to Uncle Nearest – the founding father of Tennessee Whiskey.

Why I Love Uncle Nearest

  • They’re owned by a woman who is also a person of color. Both of those things are rare in the spirits industry, and I like to support things like that if I can.
  • Nearest Green’s story and contribution to Tennessee Whiskey is legendary.
  • At $50, it’s a must-have for any liquor cabinet.

Ryan McCann
Growth & Marketing, Saucey

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