For Uncle Nearest CEO Fawn Weaver, making spirits is secondary to cementing the legacy of Nathan “Nearest” Green, the nearly forgotten godfather of Tennessee whiskey.
The first company wide Zoom call for the Tennes see whiskey maker Uncle Nearest came in mid-March. Though staffers were separated by space and cables, headphones and screens, their anxiety was palpable. A pandemic was not just spreading across the country—it was devastating the industry.
Later that month, the American Craft Spirits Association would report that almost 90 percent of the 150 distilleries surveyed had closed their tasting rooms, which often account for a substantial percentage of sales. Nearly 60 percent had laid off or furloughed employees.
Plus, Uncle Nearest, only three years old, had ambitious plans. The company’s prizewinning whiskeys were already for sale in 50 states and 12 countries. It was spend ing $50 million to turn a 270-acre farm in Shelbyville into a distillery, tasting room, gallery, restaurant, and concert space, and it funds a charitable foundation. But it had yet to turn a profit.
Nearest is the brainchild of Fawn Weaver, an entrepreneur and author of a bestselling relationship book. In 2016, she saw a New York Times article about Nathan “Nearest” Green, who, while enslaved, taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey and after Emancipation became that company’s head distiller. She moved from Los Angeles to Tennessee, thinking she might turn the story into a book or movie. Within days, she learned that the site of Green’s old distillery, the Dan Call farm, was for sale and made an offer. As she interviewed Green’s descendants, one suggested that the best way to honor him would be to finally put his name on a bottle.
Weaver quickly rose to the challenge. Her business background—she had previously launched a PR firm and a well-regarded L.A. restaurant, G. Garvin’s—and support from friends and family helped her raise a $3 million seed round. She partnered with a Nashville whiskey maker to produce the spirits, and within months was bottling the first blend.
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