Jack Daniel's is a brand of Tennessee whiskey and the top selling American whiskey in the world. Jasper “Jack” Daniel, for whom the whisky is named, was born in 1849, the tenth child of Calaway and Lucinda Daniel. Jack was raised in the Primitive Baptist Church.
In the 1850s, Jack Daniel worked for a grocer, distiller, and preacher named Dan Call. The Rev. Call used charcoal from burned sugar maple to filter the whiskey into barrels. While most distilleries in the area abandoned this process because it was too time-consuming and costly, Call persevered, believing it produced a finer whiskey.
It was during this employment that Daniel learned how to run a whiskey still. Call saw great promise in young Jack and instructed him in the fine art of producing whiskey. In either 1866 or 1875 (accounts differ), Jack Daniel opened his own whiskey distillery.
Jack Daniel never married and had no children. However, he did employ one of his sister’s sons named Lem Motlow as the company bookkeeper. Due to failing health, Daniel turned the distillery over to Motlow and another nephew in 1907. Motlow soon bought out the other nephew and would go on to run the company for the next 40 years (except during World War II, when the government banned the production of whiskey).
That’s the long-held version of how Jack Daniel became a master whiskey distiller. A second version claims the true teacher was one of Call’s slaves named Nathan “Nearest” Green (its not known how he obtained that nickname, other than perhaps he was the “nearest and dearest” to those who came in contact with him).
In this version, Call reportedly proclaimed, “Uncle Nearest is the best whiskey maker that I know of” and instructed Green to teach young Daniel how to become the world’s best whisky distiller. In addition to his skills of whisky making, Green also was quite adept at playing the fiddle and was reported to be a lively entertainer.
Nearest and his wife Harriet had 11 children - nine sons and two daughters - and many grandchildren. Originally from Maryland, its not known when Green eventually made his way to Tennessee.
After the passage of the 13th amendment (which freed slaves) in 1865, Green remained with Call. After having instructed Daniel in the best possible methods for making fine whisky, Green and two of his sons were hired by Daniel after he opened his own distillery. Nearest Green was the master distiller for Jack Daniel Distillery until it moved to its current location in Lynchburg, Tennessee sometime in the early 1880s.
Nearest chose not to move to the new location but continued to live nearby. At the time, Green and his sons were wealthier than the majority of their white neighbors.
In later years, four of Green’s grandchildren also worked at the Jack Daniel distillery. In fact, seven generations of Greens have (and still do) worked for Jack Daniels at various company locations.
Today, in homage to Nearest Green, the Nearest Foundation in Lynchberg, Tennessee, produces the Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Whiskey using the finest local ingredients. It is hand-made, placing it in the barrel close to the same 110-proof for which Nearest was known.
Oddly, Jack Daniel's home county of Moore, Tennessee, is a dry county, so the product is not available for purchase at stores or restaurants within the county.