Jack Daniel’s whiskey exists because of a former slave – who’s now getting his own label

This is an archived article and the information in the article may be outdated. Please look at the time stamp on the story to see when it was last updated.

NEW YORK — It’s one of the most recognizable names and brands in the world, but Jack Daniel’s Whiskey owes its success to someone whose name could have remained an open secret if it weren’t for someone in New York publishing the story of Daniel’s connection to former slave Nearest Green.

Now, Green is getting his name on a whiskey made with methods that he pioneered, and it will soon be available in New York City, the place that helped to bring his story to light, along with other cities across the country.

“The New York Times is the reason this story came to be,” Fawn Weaver told WPIX.

Weaver is a best-selling author of marriage advice books on the New York Times list, but she’s also an entrepreneur, TED Talker and, now, a historian on alcoholic spirits and a philanthropist. That's because of what she’s learned about — and what she’s done with — the legacy of the master distiller who instructed Jack Daniel.

“The distiller was a former slave,” she said she’d learned from a New York Times article that she was reading two years ago on a flight from Singapore.  “My eyes just got big. [I was] going, ‘You've got to be kidding!”

Daniel was an orphan in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the decades before the Civil War.  A local planter encouraged Daniel to learn to distill.  The planter's slave, Green, the first documented African American master distiller, taught Jack Daniel.

“So we can give credit for Tennessee whiskey to Nearest Green,” Weaver said.

After Green was emancipated, Jack Daniel hired him, as well as Green's family members, at premium wages.  Daniel always credited his mentor, according to Weaver.  She pointed out that credit was given in Daniel's biography, repeatedly, more than half a century ago.

“For a white man's biography to mention a black man's family 50 times means Jack's family wanted to ensure Nearest’s family is not forgotten.”

And now, the Nearest Green Foundation is distilling, on contract, its own whiskey, called Uncle Nearest 1856.

Despite being 100 proof, reviews on the Jack Daniels website say it isn't hard or biting.  In fact, it's quite the opposite — very smooth.  The same can be said for its cousin on the same label.  Nearest 1856 Silver is clear, and further filtered than the main label Uncle Nearest.

“It was created for people who really don't drink whiskey," Weaver said.

The entire new brand is the result of the enduring relationship between Jack Daniel — a world-renowned name — and Nearest Green — a name his family hopes the country will get to know better, along with the story of the two men.

“This is one of those stories where the truth is better than all the stories out there," Weaver said.