In 2017, Fawn Weaver founded Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, marking the first time a spirit was named in honor of a Black person — in this case, the man who taught Jack Daniel to make whiskey. Now, less than four years later, Uncle Nearest has vaulted up the sales charts to become the top-selling Black-owned and Black-founded spirit brand in history.
"The spirits industry has never seen anything like this in all the years that data has been tracked through the three major data collection agencies for the industry,” Donn Bichsel, founder of spirits data analyst 3 Tier Beverages, told The Spirits Business.
Since its founding, Uncle Nearest has sold 1.5 million bottles of whiskey — a feat that Bichesel said so greatly outpaced other Black-owned or Black-founded spirits brands that the others "barely registered" in the top 10.
Currently, Uncle Nearest offers three expressions: a small-batch whiskey, an aged whiskey and a single-barrel edition. The whiskies have nationwide distribution, and are currently stocked in 21,000 locations, according to The Spirits Business.
The story of Uncle Nearest is as important as the brand's latest achievement. In 2016, The New York Times brought attention to an adjustment in Jack Daniel's history, which sparked Weaver's desire to start Uncle Nearest. In Jack Daniel's 150-year history, many gave credit to Dan Call for having taught Daniel how to distill whiskey — when it was actually one of Call's slaves, Nathan "Nearest" Green, who actually taught Daniel. In 2017, Brown-Forman — the company that owns Jack Daniel's, among other brands — recognized Green as its first master distiller, making him the first Black master distiller on record.
What Weaver is doing to uplift the Black community and diversity in the spirits industry is commendable. Uncle Nearest features an all-female leadership team in a business that is largely made up of white men. The distillery's master blender, Victoria Eady Butler, also happens to be a descendant of Nearest Green. (And, of course, the whiskey is delicious, too.)
In 2020, the distillery and Jack Daniel’s pledged $5 million to the Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative to boost diversity in the spirits business. With an excellent start to 2021, the future of Uncle Nearest and the whiskey world looks bright.