Wednesday Women - Fawn Weaver

It's International Whiskey Day, so today we are honouring Fawn Weaver, who is the powerful founder behind Uncle Nearest Whiskey.

Behind CEO Fawn Weaver's whiskey brand is the story of Nearest Green, a formerly enslaved Black man fondly known as Uncle Nearest. Uncle Nearest was a pioneer of distilling Tennessee whiskey, and also taught Jack Daniel the process in the 1850s. However, his work as a master distiller and whiskey trailblazer long went uncredited. That is, until the last decade.

Weaver first learned about the man who inspired her brand in 2016, thanks to an article in The New York Times. The headline of the article read, "Jack Daniel's Embraces a Secret Ingredient: Help from a Slave." After reading the story, Weaver realized that she couldn't think of any ubiquitous American brand that could trace its roots back to an African American.

"We know we were there at the beginning of tons of American companies, but with an inability to trademark or patent, our significance in many companies was lost over time," says Weaver. "In this instance, not only was it coming to light that the white preacher and distillery that had previously been credited with teaching a young Jack Daniel to make whiskey may have been incorrectly credited, but that it was an enslaved man working on his property who was the likely teacher."

The entrepreneur took it upon herself to learn more about Uncle Nearest by bringing together 20 historians, archeologists, genealogists, and conservators, and pulling documents and artifacts from six states. "I brought them all back to the 313-acre property where Jack Daniel and Nearest Green both lived, where Nearest Green was the only known master distiller for Distillery No. 7, where Nearest taught Jack to make whiskey in that very distillery, and where Jack later created Jack Daniel Distillery," says Weaver.

By the time she and her team launched Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey in July 2017, they had gathered thousands of original documents and artifacts and knew they had to have the most researched brand story of all time.

Honoring Uncle Nearest

Before launching Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, Weaver interviewed nearly 100 descendants of Nearest Green and Jack Daniel. She ultimately found that the best way to honor Uncle Nearest was by making whiskey. "We built this company much faster than what would have been ideal, as I wasn't sure how Jack Daniel's (the company Jack's family sold in the late 1950s) would handle learning of the intention of our brand," says Weaver.

She built the company with a defense-first mentality and pressed on until the brand launched with a sourced whiskey, meaning it was made by a different distillery. "Although we would enter the market with sourced whiskey, we began producing our own in 2017, and by 2022, every bit of whiskey in our bottles was our own," she says. "While working with a partner distillery to produce Uncle Nearest, we also began building out our own $50 million distillery in Shelbyville, Tenn." Phase one of the distillery opened to the public on September 5, 2019, and two and three on June 19, 2021.

Uplifting Others

As part of Weaver's mission to honor Uncle Nearest, she and her team established the Nearest Green Legacy Scholarship Fund, before selling their first bottle of whiskey. They pay for every college-age descendant of Nearest Green to go to the university of their choosing.

As she continues her work, Weaver will always continue to uplift underrepresented communities and be a guiding light in her industry. "When you are an African American or woman who has figured out a pathway to success within an industry that has historically been reserved for white males, it becomes your responsibility to turn around and pull as you climb," she says.

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