Uncle Nearest 1856, the flagship for the Uncle Nearest label, is a bold, spicy blend of extra-aged whiskeys from Tennessee with notes of cocoa, spice, vanilla and significant oak.
Classification: American whiskey (Tennessee style)
Company: Grant Sidney
Cask: new American oak
Still type: column
Aged: A blend of 8- to 14-year-old barrels
Awards: Silver, 2021 San Francisco World Spirits Competition
- A complex high-proof American whiskey in the Tennessee whiskey tradition
- Has a compelling backstory, validated by research, dedicated blending and a top-notch finished product
- Pushes the envelope for Tennessee-style whiskeys
- Fans of Dickel or Jack Daniel’s may find it too “big” or brash.
- Could probably benefit by cutting with a bit of water
Color: Deep copper
Nose: Subtle aromatics, floral top notes over caramel, vanilla and burnt toast
Palate: It opens sweet-and-spicy with caramel, cocoa and pepper. Midpalate, notes of vanilla, almond and toasted oak emerge. By the back of the throat, vanilla, cocoa, white pepper and a soft tobacco bite evolve.
Finish: Medium-to-short finish dominated by oak, vanilla and chocolate
When the Uncle Nearest label launched in 2017 with its 1856 expression, the story of former slave Nearest Green and his contribution to the development of Jack Daniel’s whiskey (and American whiskey in general) had only recently been unearthed and acknowledged. Now it’s the fastest-growing American whiskey label out there, thanks to founder Fawn Weaver and blender Victoria Eady Butler, as well as legions of dedicated whiskey fans.
Green was either born into slavery or abducted for slavery and learned distilling in that context, as many American stills were operated in the South and elsewhere by enslaved people prior to the Civil War. After the war, he became the first master distiller at Jack Daniel’s and is thought to have taught Daniel the essentials of charcoal-filtering the whiskey, which is now known as the Lincoln County process and is intrinsic to Tennessee whiskey. Green’s sons also worked at the distillery, and now Green’s great-great granddaughter is the master blender for the whiskey honoring his legacy.There are three expressions of Uncle Nearest so far, each sourced from Tennessee distilleries, then blended. The Nearest Green distillery came on line recently, but original aged product is still a ways down the road. The 1820 is the hardest to come by and thus the most coveted, the 1856 is the most common, and the other is 1884. Each marks a significant year in Nearest’s life. The 1856 is perhaps the most divisive. First-time bourbon drinkers may find it brash and rugged. It clocks in at 100 proof and is heavy on the oak bite. But that said, it’s actually significantly more complex and approachable than some give it credit for. There’s also a bit of confusion: Though it employs whiskey distilled and aged in Tennessee and via the Lincoln County process required to be called Tennessee whiskey, Weaver and her team opted to classify it as a premium American whiskey.
“We faced immediate headwinds because so many saw bourbon as being premium but not the whiskey made in our part of the country,” says Weaver. She argues that the Tennessee process takes longer and is more expensive than Kentucky bourbon and thus is just as worthy of praise. In the end, it comes down to taste, and all three expressions of Uncle Nearest deliver. On entry, the 1856 has a caramelized-chocolate-cookie sweetness mixed with bold spices (the mash bill isn’t disclosed but likely contains a healthy amount of rye). Midpalate, it’s full-bodied and chewy, with oak and baked apple joining the caramel. The finish is shorter than one might expect, but it’s bracing, with tobacco, oak, spice and vanilla. A splash of water loosens the spirit up and exposes the vanilla and cocoa notes more elegantly. This would pair beautifully with a slightly overbaked chocolate-chip or oatmeal-raisin cookie.
In a blind tasting of 60 American whiskeys, Kentucky whiskey brainiac Fred Minnick ranked Uncle Nearest 1820 his No. 3 pick in 2019.
The bottom line: Uncle Nearest 1856 is a big, spicy bourbon-style American whiskey that has brought the Tennessee whiskey scene into the 21st century by honoring the struggles of the 19th.