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23 Feb 2024 | Jeremy Dugan


In 2016 the curtain was pulled back on Tennessee Whiskey when The New York Times reported on the story of Nathan “Nearest” Green. The enslaved Black Man that shared his process of charcoal filtering Whiskey with a young run-away who would later be known as Jack Daniels. It was on Preacher and Store Owner Daniel Call’s property that Nathan Green (aka Uncle Nearest) was making what many in Lynchburg, Tennessee and the surrounding area thought was the best Whiskey in the world during the Mid-1800s. While the Mashbill was similar to the Whiskies being made just one state over in Kentucky, what made Green’s whiskey distinct was his charcoal filtration process. The practice of using charcoal to filter water and purify food has been used on the Western Coast of Africa for centuries, so it’s safe to say that Green’s foresight in using the process was handed down to him from his ancestors.

This process for making Tennessee Whiskey, called the Lincoln County Process, was created by Nathan Green. He was the one who decided to cut down sugar maple trees, create charcoal from it and filter his unaged Whiskey before barreling. He was the one who taught a young Jasper Daniels (later known as Jack) the process and it was Nathan Green who was asked by Jasper to move down the road from Daniel Call’s farm when the young man bought the Preacher’s instruments for making Whiskey. So if Nathan “Nearest” Green is the reason Tennessee Whiskey is as popular as it is. If he is the reason for Jack Daniels being one of the best-selling spirits in the world. The reason Chris Stapleton sings about how smooth Tennessee Whiskey is. Why is it called the Lincoln County Process and not the Nathan Green Process?

Newton’s Law of Gravity isn’t called the Cambridge Law of Gravity. Einstein’s Theory of Relativity isn’t called Ulm Theory of Relativity. Chekhov’s Gun isn’t called Theater’s Gun, it’s even called Pavlov’s Dog because while the focus was the dog, it was Ivan Pavlov who did the work. Nathan Green happened to be a Black Man who lived in a time where Black People had zero rights. Whether it was a calculated measure by Jasper Daniels to keep the fact that everything he learned about Whiskey came from a Black Man or it just happened that way “because of the times”, the era of ignorance to this information is over. And while awesome Women like Fawn Weaver and Victoria Butler (a descendant of Nathan Green) are doing their best to spread the word of Nathan Green with Uncle Nearest Whiskey, it’s time for us in the spirits community to do our part and stop calling it the Lincoln County Process and call it the Nathan Green Process.

I distinctly remember a commercial that was on television while I was growing up that talked about the lore behind why the number seven appears on the Jack Daniels’ bottle. In that commercial they talked about “when Jack made the Lincoln County Process…”, we now know this is not true and to be fair, this was a commercial in the early 00s, so before the New York Times article came out. But I can fast forward to this year when I was in Tennessee, I was told that “Jasper Daniels saw Nathan Green as a mentor, a father figure.” Did he really though? There is no shortage of examples in the world of spirits that pay respect and homage to their ancestors or mentors by acknowledging them. Look at Tequila Fortaleza, Old Grand Dad Bourbon and Booker’s Bourbon just to name a few. Jasper Daniels saw Green as a father figure, but never thought to share Green’s story when it came to how Daniels learned how to make Whiskey?

A counterpoint that will be made by some will be that after 1865, Nathan Green was the highest paid employee Jasper Daniels had and was the Head Distiller. Now the term Master Distiller was new in the late 1800s, but was anyone calling Nathan Green Master? On Jack Daniel’s website, Jasper is listed as Jack Daniels’ first Master Distiller. And that dates from 1866-1911, even though Jasper had hired Nathan in 1865. If you do some link clicking in their our story section, you get to find out more about Nathan Green’s influence on Jasper Daniels and there they mention the hiring and Nathan’s position. Jasper Daniels keeping Nathan Green as an employee was a smart business decision. You don’t get rid of the golden goose while it’s still laying eggs.

When Jasper moved the distillery from Daniel Call’s farm to a few miles up the road in 1881, he gave Nathan Green the opportunity to continue working for him, but Nathan was old and didn’t want to go so he sent his sons and grandsons with Jasper. You might think if Nathan was a mentor, a father figure to Japer Daniels, maybe after Nathan retired, after 15 years of being Jasper’s Head Distiller, Jasper would make Nathan a partner, or his children partners of the business they help build. Or maybe even do a special barreling in honor of his mentor. But he didn’t, Jasper Daniels knew more about Nathan Green than any of us will ever know, and he kept the information to himself.  

While in Tennessee I was told that in Lincoln County the Green family have been local celebrities since the time of Nathan Green making everyone’s favorite Whiskey. And it turns out that there have been descendants of Nathan Green working at Jack Daniels through the Distillery’s 150+ years. How nice it must be for them to be employees at a company their ancestor helped create. It must be nice to be local celebrities when you know your family built a global empire.  

It's not always fun to look back at history. The morals of now don’t always translate to the past. As someone with a BA in history I have seen historical information revised when new research discovers that what we thought before was incorrect. As someone who will soon be married to a Woman with a degree in science and multiple scientific certifications, I know that new discoveries lead to revised scientific theories. There is no shame in saying “we got it wrong before” but there is some in saying “well we’re not going to change it.”  There is no question that Nathan “Nearest” Green was the creator of the Lincoln County Process. The thing that identifies Tennessee Whiskey was created by one man, not a commission of Distillers from Lincoln County or any type of collaborative effort. So instead of giving a county the reverence of making Tennessee Whiskey what Tennessee Whiskey is, say his name and call it the Nathan Green Process.

Great piece, and the matter of Mr. Green not being given his full due is a wrong that JD should right. And Uncle Nearest is some great whiskey—I need to try some of their newer releases. Thanks!
Tom Bentley - 29 Feb 2024 - 17:24
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