One of the hallmarks of Tennessee is whiskey. And when you talk of Tennessee whiskey, the first name that comes to mind is that of Jack Daniels who learned to make whiskey at a young age and went to defy prohibition and create a thriving business of a world renown fame.
But there is another part of the story of Jack Daniels and his Tennessee whiskey- a part that was untold until just a few years ago about the person and mentor who taught young Jack how to make whiskey. The story and influence of Nearest Green.
Young Jasper “Jack” Daniels left home at a young age and was taken in by Reverend Dan Call to help work on the farm. The Reverend was like many others at this time with a side business of whiskey coming from his farm. People would see the smoke rising from behind the hills of the farm and know that the best whiskey was being made. But it was not Reverend Dan Call making the whiskey, but one of his slaves named Nathan “Nearest” Green. Nearest would take Jack under his wing and teach him how to make whiskey and Jack learned from the head distiller.
Nearest Green remained a honored friend and mentor to Jack Daniels as he rose in the ranks of whiskey making. From the beginning, there has always been a descendant of Nearest Green working at the Jack Daniels distillery. The story of Nearest Green and his influence was whispered throughout the hills of Tennessee for centuries. But it would not be until 2016 when the whole of the story would come to light. With that story, a new distillery was established to honor the man and the whiskey.
When it was decided to create the Nearest Green distillery an opportunity presented itself in the form of an hold Tennessee Walking Horse farm in Shelbyville. Instead of tearing down the horse farm, they embraced this other part of Tennessee history and used it as the backdrop of the distillery. This distillery did not create any animosity or competition between Nearest Green and Jack Daniels but brought their connection and support of each other all the closer.
Our tour began in the Welcome Center where the delightfully funny tour guide named Chris would be taking us around from. After a brief introduction the tour was taken first to the concession stand. But this is not a working concession stand though it has all the appearance of one. On the signs out front it highlights some favorite snacks that have all come from Tennessee including Moon Pies, Goo Goo Clusters, Little Debbie, and Mountain Dew.
But just as in the days of prohibition, for those with the password this front would give way to a speakeasy in the back where people could come and enjoy their drink of choice. The distillery has created their own speakeasy complete with turn of the century ambiance and tributes to the women’s rights movement that was happening around the same time.
With symbolic representations of women and their rights to vote in the stained glass behind the counter, old pictures of women marching through the streets, and important quotes laid out in the floorboards- this created speakeasy was a beautiful tribute to the suffragettes of the time.
Chris the tour guide took around around the once farm turned distillery showing us the different buildings used in the whiskey process. Having the horse stables and the white fences around really gave the whole place a lovely appeal. This distillery is still very new and they have big plans for growth and expansion. Already nicked named ‘Malt Disney’ they plan on using the space they have to keep creating spaces that will bring people together no matter their age or drinking interest.
We had a stop in the tasting room where a row of whiskeys were put before us to try. When you book the tour you are given the option of tastings and not tasting. (tasting tour is $35/person, non tasting tour is $25/person). The 1856 had a subtle vanilla and butterscotch taste. The Rye whiskey however does not technically count as a Tennessee whiskey since rye doesn’t grow here and needs to be brought in.
After the tasting we walked through the one story barrel house where the sweet smelling vapors permeated the air. The guide gave us this pro tip: if you ever get the chance to purchase an entire barrel of whiskey, always select the barrel with the candied looking excess coming out of the seams because the whiskey will have more character to it than one in a clean and pristine barrel.
The tour ended back at the Welcome Center where a turn to the end of the building would bring you to the Humble Barron restaurant that holds the world record for longest bar. The 518 foot bar winds through the space skirting around the stage where live music is always playing. They also have a great BBQ cafe next door.
It was so interesting to learn about the lasting friendship between Jack Daniels and Nearest Green. The story of Tennessee whiskey was missing an important part, but now the story is full and complete with the lasting influence of Nearest Green included.
If you have enjoyed learning about Nearest Green, be sure to check out more on the Tennessee whiskey story with these places:
Thanks for joining me on this tour of Nearest Green Distillery. May your whiskey be smooth and your story be told.