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Tennessee’s Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey was featured on Food & Wine's inaugural Drinks Innovators of the Year list.
CEO Fawn Weaver and master blender Victoria Eady Butler were honored for their ongoing creativity and influence within the drinks space.
Uncle Nearest is named for master distiller Nathan "Nearest" Green, a former slave who taught Jack Daniel distilling in the 1800s – a tale that, until recently, was lost in history.
When the Shelbyville-headquartered Uncle Nearest debuted in 2017, Green’s legacy was further resurrected. The fastest-growing whiskey brand in the country pays tribute to the first recorded African-American master distiller in U.S. history with each bottle it introduces – from its 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey to its Nathan Green 1870 Single Barrel to its 1884 Small Batch Whiskey.
The addition of Butler, the first Black female whiskey master blender, would prove to be significant for Uncle Nearest in more ways than one.
Butler’s great-great-grandfather was Nearest Green.
Despite her familial relation to Uncle Nearest’s story and mission, Butler didn’t join the team until early 2019.
Although her first role wasn’t what she is doing now, less than 60 days in, Butler was asked by Weaver to blend their first small batch.
“I hadn’t done anything like that before," Butler said. "The thought was I would be in an administration role. I was surprised – extremely honored.”
Weaver said she believed that Uncle Nearest needed to expand its line under one condition: A descendent of Nearest Green needed to blend it.
“It was to give the family more opportunities to be involved,” Butler said.
The result was Uncle Nearest’s first 1884 Small Batch Whiskey.
And right off the bat, Uncle Nearest 1884 was winning awards. So Weaver asked Butler to blend the second date.
Butler went on to blend the third batch, after which her role was elevated to master blender.
History was made when Butler won the Master Blender of the Year title at Whisky Magazine's American Icons of Whisky Awards for 2021 and 2022.
“It has never been done," Butler said. "Nobody has ever won back-to-back awards. I knew that it was good, but I didn’t know how the whiskey community would react.”
It turns out the whiskey community felt the same way about the whiskey’s quality. It’s a premium whiskey that many critics and connoisseurs alike say deserves its lengthy list of accolades.
Due to the praise, Butler gained more confidence in her skill.
“Whiskey truly is in my blood,” she said.
The Uncle Nearest duo and the rest of the team are continuing to work on their distillery, adding to their line.
They are also finishing Humble Baron, which is set to become the longest bar in the world.
The Nearest Green Legacy Scholarship, which awards descendants of Nearest Green with financial aid, books and tutoring to continue their secondary education, is a top priority for the company as well.
“Everything we do – whether we receive accolades individually or as a team – it’s all about Nearest Green,” Butler said.
“The brand was created to honor a man who was not only an innovator but who also who made history. We are always intentional about ensuring that the focus is about Nearest Green.”
This article originally appeared on Nashville Tennessean: Tennessee’s Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey preserving historic legacy