Uncle Nearest Whiskey Lineup Is Rapidly Expanding
If you’re tuned into the whiskey world, you’ve most likely heard of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. After all, this Black-owned American whiskey brand is currently the fastest growing in the U.S. market, with a 3,000 percent increase in sales since its 2017 launch. It also earned the distinction of being the most awarded bourbon or American whiskey for four consecutive years (2019 to 2022). The whiskey is named after the enslaved man Nathan “Nearest” Green, who’s credited with teaching Jack Daniel how to distill whiskey in the mid-1800s (and is now recognized as the Jack Daniel’s master distiller). Victoria Eady Butler, one of Green’s descendants, is now the master blender for Uncle Nearest.
Uncle Nearest opened its own distillery in 2019 in Shelbyville, TN, but the majority of the whiskey continues to be contract distilled and sourced from existing operations, a common practice in the industry. In addition to the core lineup of Tennessee whiskeys (1884 Small Batch and 1856 Premium Aged), the brand has launched several new releases over the past few months, expanding into a new whiskey category and broadening its appeal to a very thirsty consumer base.
Last fall, Uncle Nearest launched its first ever rye, Uncut/Unfiltered Straight Rye Whiskey distilled in Canada, matured in New York State, and brought to Tennessee to be finished and bottled at almost 120 proof. The whiskey is made from a mashbill of 100 percent rye grain and, according to Uncle Nearest founder Fawn Weaver, it was distilled “following strict American requirements for straight rye whiskey.”
Those requirements include important rules like the whiskey must be made from a mashbill of at least 51 percent rye, and aged in new charred oak containers, which are virtually always barrels.
There was some understandable confusion in the whiskey blog world around the initial labeling of the rye, which you can read all about online if you want to take a deep dive. The language on the website is still a little opaque, saying the rye was found in New York but “born in the north, raised at least four years in the big city, before moving to God’s country for some well-deserved rest.” That reads a bit differently from the timeline described above, so perhaps that wording could use an update.
On the heels of that high-ABV whiskey came Straight Rye Whiskey, a100-proof version of the rye, which is the same as the uncut version but proofed down to a level that’s more palatable for many drinkers. Then the single barrel version of the rye arrived, which according to a brand rep, is the same straight rye used for the other releases but bottled from one barrel instead of a batch. The language on the website here provides a little more insight, saying the whiskey was distilled in British Columbia, then aged in New York for a minimum of four years in new American oak. It’s then brought to Tennessee to be finished in used Uncle Nearest barrels, so technically this is a cask-finished whiskey although not required to be labeled as such.
Finally, we have Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Black Label, a single barrel version of the brand’s Tennessee whiskey (not a rye) that’s more widely available than the one sold exclusively at the distillery. Out of all of these new whiskey releases, this one stands out in particular.
There’s a lot to parse over here, and the bottom line is that these whiskeys are good, although to be fair they might not be to everyone’s taste. If you’re looking for traditional rye whiskey flavors, you’d be better off going with something from MGP in Indiana, which is known for making rye for brands like George Dickel and Bulleit that work very well in cocktails or sipping neat.
But these are all interesting and unique whiskeys that are worth trying for anyone interested in diving deeper into the Uncle Nearest portfolio. It was announced in December that Uncle Nearest had crossed $100 million in sales, making it the most successful Black-owned distillery in the world. Whiskey fans are here for this journey, and it’ll be interesting to see what this venerated brand releases next.
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