Whiskey Review: Uncle Nearest Straight Rye Whiskey

The folks at Uncle Nearest have done a great job getting their business off the ground, and we’ve reviewed a couple of their bottles here in the past. In these past reviews, we’ve been focusing on their whiskey offerings but Uncle Nearest also makes a 100-proof rye whiskey that has been on my list to try.



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 now one of the best-selling whiskey brands both in the US and internationally.

Fawn Weaver, a 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.

This spirit is reportedly a Canadian sourced rye whiskey (just like WhistlePig) which is distilled to the same requirements as a straight rye whiskey — with at least 51% of the grains coming from rye, distilled to a lower than usual proof, and aged for a minimum of four years before being bottled. That’s good, since normally things that are exported from Canada and simply labeled as whiskey can have all sorts of nasty surprises blended into it that they think us foreigners won’t notice.

Once the whiskey has been produced, it spends the first four years maturing in New York and then heads down to Tennessee to be placed into additional barrels at the Uncle Nearest facility. 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 (who I highly suspect is Victoria Eady Butler, the Master Distiller for Uncle Nearest).


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. This bottle actually has 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 white background and metallic gold lettering for the brand information. The specific brand details are printed in a beautiful royal blue, along with a set of bands on the side of the label that help differentiate it on the shelf.

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’s clean and looks nice, but it feels like a wasted opportunity.



Just like the other spirits in Uncle Nearest’s stable, this one looks great in the bottle with a beautiful rust-amber color that makes for a great looking glass of spirits. Coming off that glass is something that is quickly recognizable as a rye, but with some significant differences from other versions. In this case, it’s like I shoved my nose straight into a freshly baked loaf of rye bread: notes of sourdough, vanilla, black pepper, brown sugar, and a little bit of brown butter. One thing I’m not getting is a lot of green apple, which is probably the quintessential telltale note for a rye whiskey. It is there… but it is just very, very far in the background.

Taking a sip, the very first thing you will get is a strong hit of black pepper spice. That spicy note is large and in charge, and dominates the flavor profile of this spirit thanks in part to the contributing power of the high proof alcohol content in the bottle. That one-two punch of black pepper and powerful alcohol makes for a bold glass of spirits that you will definitely notice — unless your taste buds have decided to quit in protest.

Quickly following that black pepper is more of that rye bread flavor — specifically, the wonderful notes of grains and sourdough goodness. That gets joined by brown sugar sweetness and a hint of vanilla to make up the majority of the flavor profile. Near the finish there’s a bit more depth and saturation that gives this a toffee-like texture, and on the end it tastes like that brown sugar gets a bit of caramelization like you’d find topping a creme brulee.

On Ice

With a flavor profile this bold and spicy, it’s going to take a lot more than a couple ice cubes to tame this beast. (Which is something I’m excited to see, since that means this probably will make for some interesting cocktails in a few minutes.)

That said, this is definitely a much more “traditionally enjoyable” version of the spirit. The black pepper is still large and in charge with that spicy kick, but there isn’t quite as much of the alcohol content to give that one-two punch we saw before.

Good news is that the rest of the flavors are all still here as well. I’m getting that sourdough rye bread flavor, the brown sugar, and the vanilla all showing up and having a party. There’s really nothing missing here, so this makes for a really good sipping glass of whiskey on the rocks.

Cocktail (Old Fashioned)

To this point, we haven’t really seen much depth or complexity to this spirit. The best we’ve gotten is some caramelized brown sugar, which does have some richer notes to it… but there doesn’t appear to be much in terms of plums or figs or dark chocolate to really sink our teeth into. So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that, while this is a good old fashioned, it does taste like it needs something extra to give it a little bit more character.

I’m primarily seeing the black pepper spice and brown sugar interacting with the aromatic bitters. There is some balance and some complexity here, but it’s all on the “upper end” of the flavor spectrum: light, superficial, and forgettable.

What this needs to take it to the next-level are some cocktail cherries or maybe some orgeat. Something to give it some depth that is sorely missing.

Fizz (Mule)

The things that made this a mediocre old fashioned have made this a really great mule, in my opinion.

As you might expect, that black pepper spice is giving this cocktail a wonderful kick in the pants in terms of providing just the right texture and spiciness to compliment the other flavors in the glass. It’s almost like throwing a jalapeno into the mix, except without the lingering burn. It’s just a quick, clean punch that leaves your taste buds wanting more.

While there’s plenty of power, I think that sweet brown sugar flavor also does a great job here balancing out all of the other flavors. The tangy lime juice, the bright ginger beer, and the peppery rye are all nicely blended together with that brown sugar as a bonding agent and produces a delightful cocktail that is sure to be a winner on a warm summer’s evening.


Overall Rating

As mentioned, we’ve tried some of the other offerings in the Uncle Nearest line of spirits — and to be frank, most of them have been mediocre at best. Nothing truly special to write home about, just well executed sourced and blended spirits bottled under an interesting label.

Ironically, this is the first bottle that has really made me stand up and pay attention. (I say ironically because, despite being named for a legendary piece of American whiskey heritage, this spirit actually comes from America’s Hat — Canada.)

There’s a delicious level of black pepper spice here that, while slightly overwhelming taken neat, makes for an excellent choice for cocktails and mixed drinks. Even on its own I found the experience to be interesting and enjoyable. I would have much preferred to see this kind of a result from an American-made spirit, but this one will do in a pinch (and hopefully in time, their own product will be ready to go and just as noteworthy).

Uncle Nearest Straight Rye Whiskey
Produced By: Uncle Nearest
Production Location: United States
Classification: Straight Rye Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 50% ABV
Price: $46.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 4/5
Probably the best thing I have tasted from Uncle Nearest yet — even though it originally came from Canada.


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