Jack Daniels is the world’s most popular whiskey brand, but until recently, few people knew that the wine was created by Nathan “Nearest” Greene, an enslaved black man who mentored Daniel.
“We’ve always known,” says Green’s great-granddaughter Debbie Staples, who heard the story from her grandmother. … “He made whiskey, and he taught Jack Daniels. And people didn’t believe it… It’s sad. I don’t know if it was because he was a black man.”
But people now believe it—in large part because the Brown-Forman Corporation, the owner of Jack Daniels’s Tennessee Whiskey, has acknowledged Green’s fundamental role in the brand’s development.
“The truth of the matter is, Nearest Green was the first head distiller of Jack Daniels Whiskey,” says Matt Blevins, Jack Daniels Tennessee Whiskey’s global brand director. “We are very proud of this story and very committed to growing and accepting it. In the past, we didn’t grow it the way we could in earlier eras, but we are about the future and Moving on.”
America’s First Known Black Master Distiller
The story begins in Lynchburg, Tennessee, the current home of the Jack Daniels Distillery. In the mid-1800s, Greene’s slaveholders hired him to hire a local preacher named Dan Call. Green, who had a reputation as a skilled distiller, made the whiskey for Calla using the sugar maple charcoal filtering process, which is believed to have originated in West Africa. Daniel, the boy who worked for Call, became Green’s apprentice and learned the special techniques that gave Tennessee whiskey its smooth flavor.
After emancipation in 1863, when all enslaved people were freed, Daniel purchased Call’s Distillery and hired Greene as the first master distiller of the Jack Daniels Distillery.
“The best knowledge we have is that they had a mentor and mentor type of relationship, and I would say, a friendship,” Blevins says. “Stories That Have Been Passed [talk] Of the care that Jack Daniels has always taken for granted… the Green family.”
There are no known photographs of Greene, but there is one of Daniels with Greene’s son George, who is seated next to Daniels, instead of being taken to the back.
“This photo shows the respect they had for each other and their families,” says Stephanie Benjamin, assistant professor of tourism management at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. “Not only to be allowed in that photo, but also to be located in the foreground and sit right next to Jack Daniels.”
seek the truth
Green’s role in the history of the brand was highlighted by a writer and entrepreneur named Fawn Weaver, who was impressed by Green’s groundbreaking contribution to the world’s most popular whiskey. After extensive research, including interviews with Green’s descendants, Weaver shared his documents with the company.
“I was pleasantly surprised when they adopted my research and updated their records to reflect this,” Weaver told VOA via email. “I think it said a lot about the character of their company that they quickly went the right way.”
Jack Daniels has included Green’s contribution to the brand’s official history, but Weaver has gone a step further. He invested $1 million of his own funds to establish Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is now the fastest growing independent American whiskey brand in American history.
The company’s master distiller is Victoria Eddie Butler, Green’s great-granddaughter.
Says Weaver, “Uncle Nearest is the most highly regarded American whiskey or bourbon of 2019, 2020 and 2021, and the fact that it is closest to Green Blending’s bloodline and taking what goes into our bottles for granted is something I regularly enjoy.” utterly astonished.” “Victoria is an absolute natural when it comes to blending, and to see her work close to perfection is to see something beautiful.”
Seven generations of Green’s family have worked at the Jack Daniels Distillery, a tradition that continues today with Staples and its two siblings. But the Green family was to no avail when in 1956 the Daniels family sold the Jack Daniels Distillery to Brown-Forman for $20 million.
“Although they [the Green family] very good in terms of finance [in the 1800s] At the time, they didn’t own or co-own the Jack Daniels Distillery,” Benjamin says. “And so, those millions of dollars have been passed down through generations of the Jack Daniels family, and not necessarily the Green family. “
Weaver’s Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey has joined hands with Jack Daniels to launch a program providing support, expertise and resources to African-American entrepreneurs entering the spirits industry.
Staples says his family is thrilled that his great-grandfather is finally being recognized.
“It’s kind of mind-boggling… and we’re very proud of,” Staples says. “And to think that from here to Africa, that recipe goes back a long way. And to think that he played such an important role in founding this company. It seems untrue sometimes. does.”
Due to Weaver’s tenacity, Green’s story, though left untold for more than a century, will not be lost to history. But this is not the case with many other stories of Black achievement and contribution to the nation.
“Part of telling your story and sharing your legacy is giving credit and paying attention to that person, if it weren’t for him, we wouldn’t have Jack Daniels whiskey,” says Benjamin. “It shows yet another example of how formerly enslaved people, black people, the African American people who really built this country, have survived the dominant narrative we’ve told.”