Over two years ago, we reviewed the 1884 Small Batch version of Uncle Nearest… and it was fine. Since then, though, this whiskey has become a more common sight (even showing up in the Delta SkyClubs) so I figured it was high time we gave the “standard edition” of Uncle Nearest a fair review.
Nathaniel “Nearest” Green was an enslaved African-American born in Maryland sometime around 1820. Owned by the Landis & Green company, during the 1850’s he was leased to a preacher named Dan Call in Lincoln County, Tennessee. Call may have been in the preaching business, but he was also in the distilling business. Green displayed an aptitude for making delicious whiskey, and over the years would become the head distiller for Call’s operation — becoming the first known African-American whiskey distiller in the United States.
One unique aspect of Green’s distilling process was the use of sugar maple charcoal to filter the whiskey. According to some historians, this process was widely used in West Africa to filter water which may have been how Green came to know of it. That charcoal filtration would later become known worldwide as the Lincoln County process and become the defining feature of Tennessee Whiskey.
Nathaniel Green and Dan Call would eventually take in a young Jasper Newton Daniel when he ran away from home. Daniel, who learned the art and trade of whiskey distilling from the pair, is better known today as Jack Daniel. He would go on to start his own whiskey distillery using the Lincoln County Process that he learned from Nathaniel Green and the Jack Daniel’s brand is one of the best-selling whiskey brands both in the US and internationally.
Fawn Weaver, an African-American bestselling author, historian, and investor, co-founded the Uncle Nearest distillery which opened its doors in 2017 with the goal to celebrate this under-recognized distiller who played such an important role in the history of American whiskey. They did not initially have a distillery facility themselves, and according to TTB records they originally started producing whiskey through a Kentucky based third party called the Distilled Spirits Epicenter but as reader Josh pointed out in the comments on the 1884 Small Batch version, they have since moved to using the Tennessee Distilling Group for their source. More recently, they opened their own Shelbyville, Tennessee based distillery in 2019 and have begun production there, although none of the spirits produced at this facility have matured enough to be ready for sale.
The whiskey produced at the new Shelbyville facility is still aging and a few years away from ready to hit shelves — so, for now, this spirit is instead one of the bottles sourced from a third party and bottled under the Uncle Nearest brand.
The spirit reportedly starts as a mixture of at least 51% corn (same as any Tennessee whiskey that Nathaniel Green would have produced), but the exact composition of that whiskey is not disclosed. The grains are milled, cooked, fermented, and distilled at an undisclosed distillery before being placed into charred new oak barrels for a period of no less than seven years.
Once the whiskey has been produced, the specific barrels used for this bottling are hand selected by co-founder and CEO Weaver. The specific barrels selected to blend together to form each batch of whiskey are then selected by descendants of Nathaniel Green, and the specific relative responsible for each batch is listed on the back of the bottle. This version I have was hand selected by V. Eady-Butler.
In this case, the whiskey has reportedly been sourced from a blend of barrels between 8 and 14 years old and is bottled at a higher-than-usual 100 proof (50% alcohol by volume). There is no indication of why this whiskey is designated with the year 1856.
The bottle has a nice clean look to it, but there isn’t a whole lot of design effort going on here.
The glass bottle itself has a rectangular cross-section, sporting flat sides that round rather quickly at the shoulder to a relatively short neck. The container is capped off with a wood and cork stopper.
As for the labeling… there really isn’t much here. Actually less than some of their other bottles.
With their other offerings, Uncle Nearest at least has an illustrated drawing of a house on the label. But in this case, there’s only a black background and metallic gold lettering for the brand information. Given that there is an amazing story to be told here and a rich history to this name, I would expect something about the branding and design to convey or tie into Nathaniel’s story. Instead, all I get is yet another generic southern whiskey design. It feels like a wasted opportunity.
I can smell the caramel and toffee aromas coming off the glass from across the table — but while those might be components that travel, there are some other aromas here that really only become apparent when you stick your sniffer in the snifter. The most prominent component is something that reads to me like cedar shavings, with an aromatic lift and that distinctive wood-like aroma. Following that is some brown sugar and the caramel we saw earlier, and a little bit of vanilla to round things out.
Taking a sip, this spirit is smooth and buttery on the palate. The first flavor I get is a good bit of crisp apple, accompanied by some brown sugar and caramel to create something close to a candied apple flavor. That is followed pretty quickly by some baking spices like cinnamon and nutmeg, flavors that shift to be closer to cedar wood as they develop. On the finish, I’m actually getting a flavor close to a very weak Red Hot, with pronounced cinnamon and sugar sweetness.
Usually, the addition of some ice into the glass tends to tone down the lighter flavors in a spirit… and I think that’s what has happened here as well. Specifically, I don’t see that cedar wood flavor or aroma anymore.
I get the feeling that the cedar was a result of the more heads-y approach that distillers take to bourbon distillation, where they don’t actually do a heads cut at all in some cases. That does add some aromatic lift to an otherwise very deep flavored bourbon, and in this case I think it manifested as that cedar flavor.
Once the ice goes in, however, the cedar flavor is gone. What’s most prominent now is the brown sugar, caramel, vanilla, and baking spices — all barrel maturation flavors and not from the raw materials. It is a darker and richer flavor though, so likely to hold up well in mixed drinks and the like.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
I like a richer, darker flavored bourbon to accompany my old fashioned cocktails — mainly because that depth of flavor is a great balance to the aromatics of the bitters. In this case, the whiskey isn’t quite as rich and well saturated as I’d normally like, but I think it does absolutely work as a good old fashioned.
What’s working well here is that the aromatic components of the bitters have taken the place of the cedar. That note provided a good balancing lift to the flavor profile, and without it the drink would have been a little heavy and one-note.
If you are looking to make this perfect, you might want to think about adding a splash of sweetened cherry juice (like from a jar of maraschino cherries) to add that depth that I’d be looking for. It also helps add just a bit more fruit — not quite as bad as a mid-century old fashioned with half of Carmen Miranda’s hat muddled in the glass, but instead just a touch fruitier.
This whiskey was doing all right until we got to this test. I feel like once we start talking about cocktails with flavor-heavy components, things tend to break down a bit and the whiskey gets a bit lost in the sauce.
What’s front and center here are the ginger beer and the lime juice. Those components are slightly bitter and sour, and normally I’d expect the bourbon to try and balance these out. The problem is that there isn’t quite enough sweetness or enough richer and darker flavors in this whiskey to make that happen. What’s left is a sour glass of ginger beer with the slightest hint of baking spices and vanilla.
This is a good, standard, well-executed American bourbon whiskey. It follows all of the normal patterns, has all of the flavors you would expect, and does a serviceable job wherever you are trying to use it. It’s on the lighter side of the spectrum, just like Jack Daniels, but with some additional barrel aging flavors and an interesting cedar shavings component as an added bonus.
What this is missing is something interesting, unique, or different. This tastes like a pretty generic bourbon, like something I could get from any number of places. If we’re going to be calling on the reputation of one of the most famous people in distilling history, then I would have expected something more unique and memorable.
|Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey
Produced By: Uncle NearestProduction Location: United States
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $62.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A good standard American bourbon, on the lighter side of the spectrum but still well-executed. I just wanted to see something a little more special.