Black History Month is being celebrated in a novel way at Finch & Fork restaurant and bar where master classes in making Old Fashioned drinks are being offered using Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey, which is named after a formerly enslaved man, Nathan “Nearest” Green.
The Santa Barbara restaurant is partnering with Uncle Nearest to raise money for historically black colleges and universities. For every Old Fashioned sold in February, Finch & Fork will match Uncle Nearest’s $1 donation, which has as its goal $1 million.
The next class will be from 7 to 9 p.m. Friday at Finch & Fork in the Kimpton Canary Hotel, 31 W. Carrillo St. The Pura Luna Apothecary team will be leading the “love potion” event, which includes a celebration of Valentine’s Day. Tickets are $65.
A Bourbon Pairing Dinner hosted by Matt Neal from Uncle Nearest will take place from 7 to 9 p.m. Feb. 24. It will include a four-course dinner curated by Nathan Lingle, Finch & Fork executive chef. Tickets are $95.
Known as Uncle Nearest, Nathan “Nearest” Green has been acknowledged since 2016 as the first black master distiller on record in the United States, according to Wikipedia. He taught Jack Daniel to make Tennessee whiskey and served as the first master distiller, formerly called “head stiller,” for the Jack Daniel Distillery as a free man after the Civil War. He was instrumental in developing the Lincoln County Process, the sugar maple charcoal filtering method used to make most Tennessee whiskey.
It is the first spirit named after a black individual. As of September 2019, it is sold in all 50 states and 12 countries.
The Uncle Nearest brand originally included a silver and an aged whiskey, both distilled from locally sourced grains and bottled in Tennessee.The silver whiskey takes 25 days to make, using an 11-step process that includes a triple charcoal mellowing system designed for the brand.
The recipe behind the Uncle Nearest Tennessee whiskeys dates back to the whiskeys made in the late 1800s in Lincoln County. According to Nearest Green Foundation co-founder Fawn Weaver, “(the recipe) was saved from a fire just behind the square in Lynchburg and is now under lock and key at the Farmers Bank in Lynchburg, the bank Jack Daniel founded in 1888.”
The recipe includes corn malt, a former whiskey ingredient long missing from Tennessee whiskeys.
The brand’s first three releases are named after the year Nearest was born (1820), the year he was credited with perfecting the Lincoln County Process (1856) and the year he retired (1884).
In 2019, Uncle Nearest announced Victoria Eady Butler, a descendant of Nathan Green, as master blender, becoming the first known black female whiskey master blender. She was named Master Blender of the Year by Whisky Magazine, VinePair and The Spirits Business in 2021
In June 2020, the Nearest Green Distillery and the Jack Daniel Distillery founded the Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative. Each company contributed $2.5 million to create the Nearest Green School of Distilling at Motlow State Community College, which includes the Leadership Acceleration Program for apprenticeships and the Business Incubation Program, which provides expertise and resources to black individuals entering the spirits industry.
On June 1, 2021, Uncle Nearest formed the Uncle Nearest Venture Fund, a $50 million initiative to invest in minority-founded and owned spirits brands. The company began the Old Fashioned Challenge in January 2023 to raise $1 million for historically black colleges and universities.