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Nearest Green: The Forgotten Founder Of Tennessee Whiskey
Tennessee whiskey goes back to 1866 in Lynchburg, Tennessee, which is when and where Jack Daniel's, the country's oldest registered whiskey distillery, came to life. While Jack Daniel and his mentor Reverend Dan Call are part of whiskey history, you can’t forget about Nathan "Nearest" Green, who many consider the forgotten founder of Tennessee whiskey.
Although Reverend Call owned the whiskey still where young Jack Daniel learned his trade, it was Nathan Green, an enslaved man on Call’s farm, who taught Daniel everything he knew. When Nearest gained his freedom in 1865, Daniel hired him to be his head distiller when he opened his distillery, but it took the company 150 years to acknowledge Nearest’s role.
In fact, the company might never have acknowledged Nearest’s role if it hadn’t been for author Fawn Weaver who advocates for Green’s historic influence on Tennessee whiskey. Weaver is also the force behind the Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey brand, which takes its name from the nickname given to Nathan Green by his friends and family in Tennessee.
More than taking inspiration from Nearest, the company employs his great-great-granddaughter, Victoria Eady Butler, as Master Whiskey Blender, and she is the first known Black woman to occupy that role. Since its 2017 launch, the Nearest Green Distillery’s four ultra-premium whiskeys have earned 450 awards and have gained popularity across the country.
Nearest Green was undoubtedly a Tennessee whiskey pioneer, but more than that, Tennessee whiskey wouldn't be what it is today without the work and knowledge of enslaved people. Tennessee whiskey relied not only on the free labor of countless enslaved people but also on African recipes and techniques, like sugar maple charcoal filtering which originated in West Africa.