Written by: Céline Bossart
You might’ve heard of Uncle Nearest, Tennessee’s award-winning whiskey laden with over 50 accolades since its summer 2017 unveiling. But there’s more to this juice than what’s inside the bottle.
In Shelbyville, a small town 50 miles southeast of Nashville, Nearest Green Distillery is in the throes of pre-opening. A project overseen by Peggy Noe Stevens––master Bourbon taster, co-founder of the Kentucky Bourbon Trail, founder of Bourbon Women, and Spirits Network expert––this whiskey aficionado’s haven sits on the 270-acre former Sand Creek Farms site and will pay homage to one man who shaped the past, present, and future of whiskey, yet has remained relatively nameless until now.
Nathan “Nearest” Green, a former slave, was the first black master distiller on record in this country, credited with perfecting the Lincoln County Process (the very process that defines the Tennessee Whiskey category and also influenced the making of Kentucky Bourbon as we know it today). Most famously, though his story is only just now being told, Uncle Nearest served as a mentor and Master Distiller to none other than Jack Daniel. His sons and grandsons continued to work for Daniel for years after Nearest retired.
Today, Uncle Nearest’s legacy is honored with the most highly awarded whiskey in America, the first to commemorate a black whiskey maker. The brand is backed by EMMY Award-winning actor Jeffrey Wright, who stars in a striking short film that premiered at Tribeca Film Center earlier this year, telling the emotional story of this brand from start to, well, the new beginning we’re witness to today. Watch the full film here (and prepare for serious goosebumps). You can also read Wright’s compelling personal account in the Summer 2019 issue of Bourbon+, as told to Editor-in-Chief and Spirits Network expert Fred Minnick, available here.
“When I went to write the invitations for the distillery opening, tears began to stream down my face,” Fawn Weaver, co-founder and CEO of Uncle Nearest, shares in a press release. “I’m not a person who cries often, but something about this history just chokes me up. When I wrote the opening line, ‘If Nearest Green could have owned his own distillery, would he have?’ I could only think of this incredible master distiller that likely never had the chance. And posthumously, we are working to ensure his name is cemented in the hearts and minds of people around the world for generations to come. The Nearest Green Distillery is his legacy and that of his descendants. Being able to bring that to life, quite frankly, still blows my mind.”
According to the same press release, the opening phase of Nearest Green Distillery will offer the following experiences, attractions, and features:
- A Tennessee Walking Horse experience where visitors will not only learn the history of the Walking Horse, but where more than 50 championship walking horses, and horses they sire, will continue to reside at the property.
- The Welcome House, complete with a custom-made horseshoe bar where visitors will learn about and sample Uncle Nearest’s award-winning whiskeys. It will be the only place in the world with tastings of all four expressions: Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1884 Premium Small Batch Whiskey, Uncle Nearest 1820 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey and Nathan Green 1870 Premium Single Barrel Whiskey, an expression previously sold only in the U.K. A second-story Awards Mezzanine was built out to showcase some of the more than 50 awards the brand has already won.
- A Copper Skies Experience where guests can sit in rocking chairs under a covered patio to see the most beautiful sunset in Tennessee. Visitors can sip on Uncle Nearest cocktails from Toppy’s, a connecting bar named after the CEO’s own horse, while watching the colors of the sunset.
- A Full Retail Store, where visitors can purchase custom apparel, rare bottles of Uncle Nearest, and just about anything else Uncle Nearest makes.
- The Bottling House open to the public, allowing visitors to take part in labeling the whiskey sold in the retail store. All four Uncle Nearest offerings will be bottled here.
- A Hard Hat Tour, offered with every premium tasting. This experience walks visitors through the spaces under construction that will open in 2020, such as the single barrel warehouse and tasting room, as well as the Heritage Hall, an impressive collection of all things invented in Tennessee such as NASCAR, miniature golf, Moon Pies and Mountain Dew, with a special focus on Tennessee Whiskey, Walking Horses and country music.
Currently, the Uncle Nearest whiskey portfolio includes a premium aged whiskey, a 7-year-old small batch whiskey, and an 11-year-old single barrel whiskey. Visitors can learn more about the distillery opening and RSVP to surrounding events here.