Photos by Justin D. Harrison
She explained that Uncle Nearest honors the legacy of Nearest Green, who was born into slavery around 1820 and became the first master distiller for Jack Daniel. In 2016 author and researcher Fawn Weaver read an article in The New York in Times that suggested an enslaved man taught Jack Daniels the whiskey-making craft. She decided to dig deeper into Daniel’s story; in doing so, Weaver uncovered Green’s story and founded Uncle Nearest in 2017.
Since then, the brand has garnered more than 500 awards and accolades, and its 432-acre distillery in Shelbyville, TN produces some of the most-awarded American whiskey and bourbon.
Both whiskey types must meet the same basic requirements: it must be aged in a new, charred American oak barrel; it must enter the barrel at a maximum of 62.5% ABV, be distilled to a maximum of 80% AVD, and bottled at a minimum of 40% ABV; and the mash must contain at least 51% corn. Tennessee whiskey, however, undergoes an extra step.
After it is distilled—but before it is barreled—it is sent through vats that are filled with charcoal from sugar maple trees. This method was formerly known as charcoal leaching. It earned its current moniker when Green taught Daniel how to make whiskey in Lincoln County. Today, it is what defines Tennessee whiskey and makes it unlike any other spirit in the world.
“It doesn’t add anything to it,” Dillingham said. “It reduces. The process is actually removing, filtering, and cleansing.” She added that the Lincoln County Process simply gets rid of impurities and smoothes out flavors—making it “as smooth as Tennessee whiskey.”
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