The Uncle Nearest whiskey brand has a new bottle on its way, but with this bottle, it’s also focusing on what’s most important: family. Starting with the first batch, the new Uncle Nearest 1884 will honor its namesake’s living descendants by including them in the curation of the whiskey.
Uncle Nearest whiskey is named for the first known African-American master distiller Nathan “Nearest” Green, a former slave who by all accounts taught Jack Daniel everything there was to know about whiskey distillation. The whiskey, which is currently distilled by a contract distiller, is the work of a team seeking to reproduce and honor what Green did more than 150 years ago.
1884 was the last year founder and CEO Fawn Weaver and her team of researchers believe Nearest put his own whiskey into a barrel, so this new whiskey is essentially the Green family picking up where Nearest left off. “So,” as Weaver explains, “we’d better get this right.”
Weaver has spent several years at the helm of an initiative to bring awareness to the story of the man who taught Jack Daniel how to distill, and later became his first master distiller. She has overseen the creation of the whiskey brand in partnership with the Green family, as well as charitable initiatives to give back in Green’s honor.
The new Uncle Nearest 1884 Whiskey is a tribute to that legacy. The whiskey, which has a bourbon-like, corn dominant mashbill, will be produced one batch at a time by committee, with a member of the Green family as chairperson. The chair of each panel will be a different descendant, beginning with Nearest’s great-great granddaughter Victoria Butler, who oversees the Nearest Green Foundation, a scholarship program developed by the whiskey brand to pay for education for Green family descendants.
For years, Butler says, the family and parts of Lynchburg County (where Jack Daniel’s is located) knew the story, but it didn’t stretch much beyond those relationships. That changed when Uncle Nearest came along. “Not only do we know, and the people in Lynchburg know, the world knows,” says Butler.
The experience of being part of the panel was exciting for Butler, who says that for the final blend, they tasted more than 40 whiskeys in a day. Weaver says throughout that day, Butler was in charge—and was making a tasty whiskey. “There were certain ones where we were like, you know, we don’t like it as much, and she picked up a different note and said, ‘This is why I liked it,’ and it went in because it’s her batch.”
The final whiskey created is accessible and flavorful, with a creamy corn sweetness. For a whiskey filtered first through maple charcoal and then through natural coconut shell carbon, it has a surprising amount of depth and texture, and at 93 shows a prominent corn sweetness and layers of vanilla and toffee. The finish is spicy, but it’s a pleasant, low rumbling spice rather than a punch of heat.
“I personally think that [1884 is] going to become our signature,” Weaver says. “From batch to batch it’s going to be so interesting to see the tastes of the descendants.” Butler likes to drink 1884 and the higher proof 1856 neat, but her favorite cocktail is an Uncle Buck, which typically includes ginger liqueur or syrup, and citrus.
To ensure some standards among the releases, Weaver says they’ll mostly keep the age to 7 years minimum, and that the proof point will hover as close to 93 as possible. We were curious why 93 was the chosen proof point. Weaver explained that beyond the fact that the whiskey tasted its best in the low 90s, 93 actually has historical significance: It’s what proof their research suggests the whiskey would have been served at in the 1800s when Nearest made it.
Uncle Nearest 1884 will be available this month for $50—the most affordable bottle in the portfolio to date. At 7 years of age, it’s already a modern value bottle at that price, not to mention that the whiskey inside is one of the most refined crowd-pleasers we’ve tasted this year.