The narrative of the American whiskey industry often revolves around the distillation traditions of Scotland, Ireland, and other European countries. However, the significant contributions of African-American slaves played a crucial role in shaping the whiskey-making process. Among them, the story of Nearest Green stands out as a pivotal figure in the success of Jack Daniel’s renowned whiskey.
Jack Daniel, originally named Jasper Newton Daniel, did not embark on his whiskey venture alone. In the early stages of establishing his business, the name Dan Call was closely associated with his success. Call, a wealthy landowner and Lutheran preacher, played a key role in Daniel’s early life, providing him with employment to meet his daily needs. Daniel’s journey into the whiskey industry began under the guidance of Nathan Green, one of Call’s trusted employees.
The contributions of Nathan “Nearest” Green to the success of Jack Daniel’s whiskey in Tennessee often went unnoticed in historical narratives. It was only later that his contributions were officially acknowledged by Jack Daniel’s Distillery. In the late 1850s, Jack Daniel, an orphan, was cared for by Dan Call, a Lutheran preacher and whiskey distiller. Call’s farm, located approximately five miles from Lynchburg, became the starting point for Jack Daniel’s whiskey legacy.
Under Call’s supervision, Jack worked in the whiskey manufacturing plant, with Nearest Green serving as his mentor. Green, already an accomplished distiller, played a significant role in shaping Daniel’s understanding of whiskey production. Call instructed Green to share all his knowledge with Jack, recognizing Green as the best whiskey maker he knew.
Little is known about Nearest Green’s early life, but those around him acknowledged his distilling prowess. His unique process, incorporating charcoal and maple sugar, was believed to have roots in West Africa and was brought to America by enslaved individuals. This process not only enhanced the flavor of Green’s whiskey but also established the standard for Tennessee whiskey known as the Lincoln County Process.
The relationship between Jack Daniel and Nearest Green continued even after the abolition of slavery with the 13th Amendment in 1865. Call, unwilling to continue the business, sold the distillery to Jack Daniel, who renamed it Jack Daniel’s Distillery. In this new venture, Green, no longer a slave, was appointed as the head of the distillation department until the distillery relocated to Cave Spring Hollow in 1881.
Despite their interracial friendship and working relationship, the acknowledgment of Nearest Green’s contributions was obscured for decades. Green’s role was further blurred by the lack of extensive documentation and rigid racial norms of the time.
Fortunately, oral traditions among descendants and locals helped preserve parts of Green’s story. Efforts led by researchers, such as Fawn Weaver, aimed to piece together Nearest Green’s narrative. In 2016, Jack Daniel’s Distillery officially recognized Green as Daniel’s mentor, unveiling the true maestro behind the iconic whiskey.
Nearest Green’s invaluable contributions to the whiskey industry, particularly Jack Daniel’s Tennessee whiskey, have finally received the recognition they deserve. Thanks to the efforts of researchers and the acknowledgement by Jack Daniel’s Distillery, Nearest Green’s legacy as a whiskey-making pioneer has been rightfully restored. As we raise a glass to Jack Daniel’s iconic whiskey, let’s also toast to the unsung hero, Nearest Green, whose expertise and craftsmanship continue to shape the whiskey industry today.