Sometimes a story’s discovery amazes people just as much as the narrative itself. It’s not as prevalent as it sounds, but there’s an excellent one circulating in downtown Nashville.
Avenues one through 16 make up all of downtown Nashville, together with Broadway and its associates.
Crowds congregate in stores that sell cowboy boots or in pubs where the guitars never cool down and the red jewel lights on Fender amplifiers never go out.
Frozen margaritas and bachelorettes are overflowing from rooftops.
It is vibrant, it is fantastical, and it is Disneyland dressed in denim shorts.
There’s merit in it, I suppose.
But it is not usually a location for amazing tales.
For those, you need a car.
Though it takes longer to get home, an hour and a half should be enough.
Start out on Interstate 24, then turn left onto US-231 and continue on into Shelbyville.
Driving parallel to the highway’s namesake Flat Creek after passing Sulphur Springs Road.
The white clapboard houses in this area tremble in the agitated air as the Fords and GMCs speed by.
A sign welcoming travellers to Lynchburg comes as the road straightens out.
It seems best not to worry about this name.
The house on Dan Call’s farm may be seen if you drive a little further into the woods.
It is another white house.
Newspapers from a century and a half ago peek out from under flaking wallpaper within the wood, which is marked with distillation marks.
Once, they were used as insulation.
Pastor Dan Call was a Lutheran.
He also owned a nearby store and a farm in addition to the church.
Along with the shop, he also made whisky.
Additionally, if we choose to label that time period “then,” people were busy.
Around the year 1850, an orphan named Jasper who was seven years old Daniel and the preacher were introduced by a man by the name of Felix Waggoner.
It was long believed that Call had instructed the boy in the production of whisky.
Whatever the case, the youngster undoubtedly picked up the skill because Jack is now used to refer to Jasper.
Every year, 165 million bottles of Tennessee whisky have his name on the label.
Wow, such a feat for an orphan.
Jack Daniel didn’t produce as much when he was alive, but he was famous, and popularity came with pictures.
One of him is pictured sitting with his employees.
He’s not the one you first see: the person you notice first is wearing a striped shirt and dungarees, holding his hands in a triangle, and has a sour-faced expression.
But next to him sits a wiser, older, and more significant man with a houndstooth beard, white hat, and waistcoat.
His eyes are squinted as if he doesn’t trust the camera.
Alongside Jack, between the two males, is a black man with a cocked hat.
The photograph was taken in Tennessee in 1904.
It was unusual back then to see a black man and a white man seated together.
The South has a rich past.
The image was published in the New York Times a century and a half later with the shocking headline, “Jack Daniel’s Embraces a Hidden Ingredient: Help From a Slave.”
According to the article, Brown-Forman, who has owned Jack Daniel’s since 1965, was releasing a secret that Lynchburg people had only managed to keep a secret by word of mouth.
The fact was that Nathan ‘Nearest’ Green, a slave owned by a nearby business and employed by the minister, had actually taught Jack how to produce whisky, not Call.
Call is alleged to have told Jack that Uncle Nearest makes the best whisky he is aware of.
The youngster must be shown how to produce the sour mash, Call instructed Nearest.
So, he did.
When grown-up Jack purchased Call’s still, the Civil War had already ended.
Green, who was now free, was employed as his head stiller and the business was christened in his honour.
They got along well; Green was referred to as Uncle Nearest.
The New York Times gave in to Brown-Forman’s request for the world to know his name, and that was that.
Eric Ryan Anderson and Fawn Weaver
However, despite being amazing, that story is not the one that surprises in this case.
The narrative picks up steam the morning Fawn Weaver awoke in Singapore, read the article in the newspaper, and saw that picture.
Weaver has more stories than most people her age in her lifetime.
She was the daughter of Frank Wilson, a hit-writing legend for Marvin Gaye, the Supremes, and the Temptations who left Motown to start a new life the year she was born.
By the time the Times report was published, she had been married for 13 years to Sony Pictures Executive Vice President Keith Weaver.
And Weaver herself had previously published two books, one of which was a hit in the non-fiction genre.
She could tell when a yarn was worth unravelling.
I believed I had another with Nearest Green.
I assumed this place contained a book,” she claims.
And I might be able to produce a film.
We decided to visit the Jack Daniel’s distillery. not only one.
It was three times, she says, that she took the tour. ”
And I was unable to see the closest.
He was nowhere in sight.
Weaver continued to look for her movie and stepped up her quest.
She found Lynchburg difficult enough to settle there.
Weaver remembers, “I advertised in every newspaper, every Friday, stating I was looking into these four individuals.
Green, Waggoner, Daniel, and Call were among them.
It simply stated, “Just let me know if you have anything in a basement or an attic.
What is it about the South that I particularly love? No one ever throws anything away, jokes Weaver.
“When I would awaken, a piece of paper would be stuck to the windscreen with the wiper.
It would only consist of a note stating things like, “This is the history of this farm, this is the history of this man, etc.
No such luck if she had hoped that her investigation would lead to the discovery of a thin paper trail.
Documents left behind, sent through the mail, or given to her by people merely walking by quickly added up.
And up. And up. I eventually received almost 10,000 documents and objects from six different states.
All of a sudden, a book seemed inadequate, and even a movie couldn’t contain it all.
Weaver discovered herself on the phone, crossing county borders, interacting with families, and establishing friends.
The concept was to reclaim Nearest Green’s legacy rather than simply telling his story, which was already somewhat public.
The greatest undiscovered whisky producer in the world in 2016 might have been Nearest, but Weaver was determined to change that.
It was time to make Uncle Nearest, a brand of whisky.
She only needed a little assistance.
“I had been everywhere and had been on calls for hours.
I discovered that the family is actually divided into five branches, and they are all strangers to one another.
On Dan Call’s farm, which used to be the site of the original distillery number seven, I gathered everyone and set up a large old tent.
The entire thing was covered in pictures from each family, army records, birth, death, and marriage certificates, among other documents.
Weaver doesn’t mention it, but her Tennessee spirits should eventually be available in an Uncle Charles version.
Charles had served in the military and used postcards to stay in touch with his entire family; these particular postcards also happened to be self-portraits.
And I was able to persuade each of these families that they were linked solely by doing that.
They all had one, Weaver says, half in disbelief and half laughing.
A sceptic from the Green branch of the family was one of those who did not survive the tent-camping night.
A gathering in a tent with a mysterious stranger from out of town, a sleek Los Angeles type, about whom her relatives wouldn’t stop talking? Please disregard.
Nearest Green’s great-great-granddaughter, Victoria Eady Butler, was in charge of a group of criminal intelligence analysts at the Department of Justice in Nashville.
Her time was dedicated looking into organised crime.
Who needed booze?
“Two of my sisters instantly fell in love with her.
And speaking of my mother, she loved Fawn.
Butler adds, “She was talking about this gorgeous woman from California… everyone’s talking about Fawn,” with a raised eyebrow indicating that she wasn’t quite ready to trust the hype.
Well, she’s extremely unique compared to everyone in Lynchburg.
She nods and grins as if she had something to say but is hesitant to do so.
Butler was avoiding eye contact.
“Everything she missed! Weaver exclaims with a joyous cry of laughter, “You can’t convince me it wasn’t deliberate.
The two eventually met at Butler’s niece’s graduation because Weaver was not easily deterred.
Somehow, they were able to coexist.
By this time, Uncle Nearest had its own distillery and was operational.
Weaver then had an idea that capitalised on their new connection while including business.
Weaver adds of the renowned Uncle Nearest whisky, “Every single descendant was supposed to have their own batch of 1884.”
They were all invited, so she did.
Right, it’s a marketing gimmick.
“No doubt at all! However, I wanted their signatures on it so they would feel like they were a part of it.
Weaver had not anticipated something occurring, though.
Weaver continues, “As Vi is getting ready to choose the barrel, I’m with the team and we’re all saying, you know: I got you covered, you’re gonna be alright.
Weaver imitates Butler’s dismissive pointing: “She’s taking her notes, she’s all shy about it, she’s asking questions, then halfway through she actually starts going, that one’s out, that one’s out, and I don’t know how she was doing it, because she wasn’t spitting.
However, her notes were exactly accurate. “Vi, this is in your blood,” I just stated.
Butler continues the narrative.
She chuckles, “There was no hesitation when Fawn asked me to get involved.
Which to me now seems absolutely ridiculous.
But she did participate, leaving the police and becoming the first black woman to hold the position of master whisky mixer.
Saying that this is rare would be an understatement.
“Coming into this space as black people in bourbon, it had never happened, especially not a black woman,” claims Weaver.
“Woman of any race, including black women.
It had never occurred before.
The person had always been white.
It’s a role Butler obviously values, made all the more poignant by the fact that she’s the only Nearest descendent working with Weaver (although this could change: There has always been a Green there ever since Jack Daniels was created.
Following 42 years there, my oldest sister recently retired.
She’s taking a moment to regain her breath, but I have a feeling Fawn will hear from her soon.
Why didn’t more people desire to be associated with the family name brand? Butler chuckles once again, “No! They aspire to careers as doctors and attorneys.
It had never happened before, especially not a black woman, for black folks to enter this environment while drinking bourbon.
White men had always been the subject.
Weaver says, “I want so many Greens to be active, but our work is not exciting.
They were saying, “Let’s get this straight: we can be physicians, we can be attorneys — and you want us to come work in a distillery?! We’re paying for their educations, after all.
Why on earth would we act in that manner?
Butler’s presence, however, has purposes beyond simply protecting the lineage.
Butler is damn good at her profession; in 2021 and 2022, Whisky Magazine honoured her Master Blender of the Year (no one had ever won two years in a row previously).
The brand’s trophy case is exceptional; it is brimming with 550 honours and honours collected since it began in 2017, which speaks volumes about the quality of the beverage, which was the most honoured American whisky in 2019, 2020, 2021, and 2022.
There is a reason it is the fastest-growing independent whisky brand in American history, and it already has a good range.
There is the standard, distinctive 1884, which is boldly American but smooth with apples, apricots and vanilla; a step-up in 1856, which is all caramel and chocolate and bright with something that tastes like mint; velvet in the single barrel; and fire and spice in the rye.
Now that the bottles have arrived in London from Lynchberg, up the roads and across the sea, Oskar Kinberg keeps them on hand in Hide Below, the Soho House gang keeps them behind the bar and Acme Fire Cult pours shots out amid the smoky ambiance.
Others will join Swift, Silverleaf, and Blackleaf in having it.
Therefore, have one if you’re in.
You’ve got one hell of a story to tell, so better make it a double.