Honouring the godfather of Tennessee whiskey.
The Southern state of Tennessee has gifted us many things: Memphis-style ribs, Moon Pie, Dolly Parton and, of course, Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey – which is distilled in the town of Lynchburg. Like countless other whiskey brands, Jack Daniel’s has a centuries-old history dating back to 1864 (according to their website) with the launch of the iconic Old No. 7.
The name of the company hints at it being named after someone and that man was Jasper Newton Daniel, who went by the name Jack. What isn’t widely known is that he was taught how to distill whiskey by a slave named Nathan “Nearest” Green who lived and worked on the property of a local preacher. Fawn Weaver, an American businesswoman, historian and author, began to uncover more of his story in 2016 after seeing a New York Times article with the headline “Jack Daniel’s embraces a secret ingredient: Help from a slave”. Fawn told the Gastropod team on a recent podcast episode that “as an African American, it was mind boggling because we know that African Americans have been involved in so many brands over the centuries, but we’ve never been able to point to one and say this person actually had a name”.
Fawn became so moved and passionate about telling this story – one that had for so long been excluded from history – that she moved her family to Tennessee to find out more. It could be said that the reason Nearest Green was left out of mainstream history books until very recently is because for hundreds of years slaves were denied any benefits and privileges because of their race – a societal construct used to justify America’s economic system of capitalism, which depended on forced labour from African slaves.
Fawn worked tirelessly to shine a light on a man who literally made history by playing a pivotal role in the creation of a giant global alcohol brand. She has built a memorial to Nearest at the local cemetery, and a book and a movie are in the pipeline. Fawn has also started bottling a brand of whiskey under the name ‘Uncle Nearest 1856’ in homage to the forgotten slave, and it has become one of the fastest-growing independent spirit brands in American history.
View this post on Instagram
Recently, Nearest Green Distillery and Jack Daniel’s have jointly pledged $5 million (about R84m) as part of a new initiative to boost diversity across the American whiskey industry.
ALSO READ: Whiskey for beginners