Victoria Eady Butler is a busy woman.

On top of her responsibilities as master blender of Uncle Nearest’s Premium Tennessee Whiskey, Butler’s days have been a stream of daily zoom meetings, juggling “work stuff” with endless media interviews and even the occasional photoshoot; Victoria recently appeared on the cover of American Whiskey Magazine. Meanwhile, Butler’s calendar is once again populating with personal appearances where she will be on the road preaching the story of “Uncle” Nearest Green and the brand. And that’s just the beginning of what’s happening at what is currently the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in U.S. history.

For starters, team Nearest is gearing up for their post-pandemic June relaunch where visitor tours will recommence and “Phase II” of construction on their state-of-the-art distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee, will be revealed. A barbecue restaurant, a new barrelhouse, and what’s slated to be the world’s longest bar is what you can expect, plus music and even NASCAR culture. Visitors will come for the whiskey and entertainment, but they’ll stay for Nearest Green’s incredible story, one that laid basically dormant for over 160 years. But Victoria Eady Butler has known the tale of “Uncle” Nearest Green, the formerly enslaved man who taught Jack Daniel how to distill, since childhood. Butler is the man’s great-great-granddaughter.

“My Grandmother, who passed just before her 100th birthday, made sure we knew Nearest Green was a mentor to Jack Daniel and taught him how to make whiskey,” Butler explains. “Green was also the first African American distiller on record and is a big part of the history and culture of modern Tennessee whiskey.”

Although Nearest Green’s story is relatively well documented, Victoria doesn’t speculate on why Green’s contributions went missing from the annals of whiskey history all these years. She instead chooses to look forward. “Blessings lie in the future,” she says, and Butler’s future has definitely taken an unexpected turn. In 2017 Victoria was nearing retirement after a more than 30-year career with the United States Department of Justice when Fawn Weaver entered her life. Weaver informed Butler and her family she intended to honor Green’s contributions to Tennessee’s distilling history, which included launching a whiskey in his name. These initial conversations would eventually transform Butler from the keeper of family lore to being on the forefront of a big-time spirits brand.

From left: Victoria Eady Butler, Sherrie Moore, Fawn Weaver, and Katharine Jerkens, Uncle Nearest SVP of Sales and Marketing. Photo by Eric Ryan Anderson.

The Re-Birth Of Uncle Nearest

When New York Times best-selling author Fawn Weaver first arrived in Lynchburg, Tennessee in the summer of 2016, the serial entrepreneur had no plans to create a whiskey company. The original idea was to write a book about Green’s life with an eye toward a movie deal. But as Weaver pieced together Green’s history and came to understand the scope of who Green was, Fawn became determined to honor his legacy on a grander scale. Her first act was purchasing the Dan Call Farm in Lynchburg, Tennessee, the property on which Green learned to distill. To facilitate the sale, Weaver was introduced to Sherrie Moore, a real estate professional who happened to be the former Jack Daniel’s director of whiskey production. When Weaver shared that she was interested in creating a whiskey dedicated to Nearest, Moore offered to help make it happen. Weaver accepted her offer, and the brand launched in 2017.

The Dan Call Farm, Lynchburg, ,TN. Photo courtesy of Uncle Nearest

Nearest Green and Jack Daniel

Jack Daniel and Nearest Green had formed a special bond back in those early days in the mid-19th century on the Call Farm in Lynchburg. Dan Call was a preacher who relied on Nearest Green, an enslaved man who was “on loan” to Call to distill his whiskey. Jack Daniel was a kid when he arrived at the farm as a chore boy, and it wasn’t long before Daniel became interested in the goings-on of Green’s still. Call introduced Daniel to meet Green, who taught Jack Daniel how to make whiskey. A friendship was forged that would last a lifetime. When Jack Daniel set about building his mighty namesake company, he purchased Call’s farm and hired Green, a free man by this time. After the Civil War, Green became Jack Daniel’s original distiller.

Nearest Green’s contributions to distilling transcended his status of working for Jack Daniel. According to the Butler, Green is credited with perfecting the “Lincoln County Process,” where distillate is filtered through maple charcoal before barrel aging. He did this by developing a ‘slow drip’ method, which is still used at Jack Daniel’s today. The company has long credited The Lincoln County Process as its not-so-secret weapon in attaining their whiskey’s distinctive flavor. In 2013, former Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam signed into law that any whiskey labeled “Tennessee” must be filtered via Lincoln County Process, making Green’s contributions even more historically relevant.

A Twist of Fate

Uncle Nearest was the first whiskey to honor an African American, founded by the only African American female to own and operate a major spirits brand. And it all revolved around Butler’s direct ancestor. It was 2019 when Fawn Weaver first offered Victoria Butler an administrative position at Uncle Nearest. Butler accepted but had no idea this would be the beginning of a meteoric rise. After Butler was put in charge of managing the Nearest Green Foundation, a non-profit offering education scholarships to Green’s descendants, Weaver asked Butler to curate and blend the first batch of Uncle Nearest 1884.

While the brand builds its own distillery and ages its juice, today’s Uncle Nearest is made from sourced parcels of Tennessee whiskey that’s batched and blended by Butler. When Butler’s first 1884 was released, raves came roaring in from spirits journalists while medals stacked up from the spirits competition circuit. After proving her affinity for making delicious whiskey, Butler was promoted to master blender in November 2019. Recently Victoria was named Master Blender of the Year at the 2021 Icons of Whisky.

Butler deeply appreciates the accolades and the fact that people are enjoying the whiskey. She even becomes a little emotional when reflecting on how her life has changed. But she knows what’s most important is knowing the soul of Uncle Nearest will always belong to the preservation of Green’s legacy. For this, Victoria is grateful to Fawn Weaver every day.

“Nearest is finally taking his rightful place in American whiskey history. I hope that when people talk about icons like Jim Beam and Jack Daniel, that Nearest Green will also be in the conversation. And Fawn Weaver is bringing that to life.”

—Victoria Eady Butler

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman.