The Greatest Whiskey Maker The World Never Knew

As Nearest Green and Jack Daniel distilleries announce their new diversity partnership, we take a closer look at the ‘godfather of Tennessee Whiskey.’

By: Tiff Christie|June 16,2020

Last week, Jack Daniel’s and the Nearest Green Distillery announced an initiative to increase diversity in American Whiskey.

The joint initiative between the two distilleries will see $5 million pledged to help create the Nearest Green School of Distilling, develop the Leadership Acceleration Program (LAP) for apprenticeships and establish the Business Incubation Program (BIP), focused on providing expertise and resources to African Americans entering the spirits industry as entrepreneurs.


Daniel, with a moustache and white hat, is shown at his distillery in Tennessee in the late 1800s. The man to his left is believed to be the son of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green.

Now while you probably know (and might have drunk) Jack Daniel’s, you may not be quite as aware of Nearest Green. It is his story that not only links the Uncle Nearest brand to Jack Daniel’s but has also spurred on the development of the initiative announced.

You see, when your think of Tennessee Whiskey and for that matter Jack Daniel’s itself, how everything came about, may be a little different than you were lead to believe.

If you know anything about the Jack Daniel’s history, you will know that sometime in the 1850s, when Jack Daniel was a boy, he went to work for a preacher, grocer and distiller named Dan Call. And as the story goes, it was Call’s whiskey that inspired Daniel to set up his own whiskey distillery. But what has recently come to light is that it wasn’t Call that taught Daniel how to distil.

Back in 2016, when the brand was celebrating its 150th anniversary, the company revealed that Daniel learned to distil from a man named Nearest Green — one of Call’s slaves. And after Green was freed, at the end of the Civil war, he became Daniel’s master distiller.

“If you want to appreciate jazz, you better know who Louis Armstrong was, and if you want to appreciate American whiskey, you should know who Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green was,” said Jeffrey Wright, award-winning actor, who with the Uncle Nearest Distillery, has made a short film about Green’s story.

Although Jack Daniel’s acknowledged Green’s contribution in 2016, it was author (and now Nearest Green CEO) Fawn Weaver, who has worked to uncover and share Green’s history. Weaver researched for more than 2,500 hours and spoke to more than 100 relatives in order to find out the true story of Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green.

One of her sources was a 1967 biography, “Jack Daniel’s Legacy,” by Ben A. Green (no relation), that says that Call told his slave to teach Daniel everything he knew. “Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of,” the book quotes Call as saying.

“About 95% of the region around Lynchburg, Tennessee (where the Jack Daniel’s distillery is located) has accepted Green’s role in the history of Tennessee whiskey,” explained William Hussey Jr., a member of the Tennessee Squires, which serves as a sort of Jack Daniel’s fan club. “However, there’s still “the 5% of old Southern boys who would like to keep everything hidden.”


Fawn Weaver

As the New York Times article back in 2016 pointed out, “Enslaved men not only made up the bulk of the distilling labour force, but they often played crucial skilled roles in the whiskey-making process.” To that point, it is believed that Green helped perfect the Lincoln County Process, a step in the whiskey-making process, which is a requirement for it being categorized as Tennessee Whiskey

The official end of slavery came in 1865, with the ratification of the 13th Amendment and it was a year later that Daniel opened his distillery. As well as Green himself, Daniel also  employing two of Green’s sons. In a photo of Daniel and his workers taken in the late 19th century, a black man, believed to be one of Green’s sons, sits at his immediate right — a sharp contrast to contemporaneous photos from other distilleries, where black employees were made to stand in the back rows.

But corporate history-keeping was a rare practice in those days, and over time memories of Green and his sons faded

“We just need to know stories like this because it smashes the lies,” said Wright. “You have this… great iconic American brand … this thing that is representative of something that sits in our soul, that’s created by the coming together of two families… an unlikely partnership.”

The legacy


Although the legacy of Uncle Nearest has now been preserved in the whiskey that bears his name, it could be said that it is the initiative between the two distilleries that best embodies Green’s life as teacher and master distiller.

“Nearest Green taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey and we’re incredibly proud our companies are joining forces to further their legacies of excellence, and to make distilling and the whiskey industry we love more diverse,” said Weaver.

“Given our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, I am thrilled we are coming together in this way today,” said Lawson Whiting, President and Chief Executive Officer, Brown-Forman Corporation, the parent company of Jack Daniel’s.

“This collaboration allows the extraordinary friendship of Nearest and Jack, and the hope they embodied during racially divided times in our country’s history, to help us advance the next generation of African American leaders in our industry.”

But probably Wright says it best. “This is a story that unifies us… and I think we so desperately need that now. We forever will be in this thing together — and that’s the story of Nathan Nearest Green, ‘Uncle Nearest,’ and Jack Daniel.”

For more information on the initiative, go to For more information go to To see the complete short film on Uncle Nearest go to Vimeo

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