The Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative Pledges $5 Million to Further Diversity in the Whiskey Industry

Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel's.

The Jack Daniel Distillery and Nearest Green Distillery have announced a new partnership to advance African Americans in leadership in the whiskey industry. The Nearest & Jack Advancement Initiative, supported equally by both companies, has already pledged $5 million to create the Nearest Green School of Distilling, develop the Leadership Acceleration Program (LAP) for apprenticeships, and establish the Business Incubation Program (BIP), focused on providing expertise and resources to African Americans entering the spirits industry as entrepreneurs.

The link between the two brands dates back over 160 years, when an enslaved man named Nathan “Nearest” Green taught a young Jack Daniels how to make Tennessee whiskey with the Lincoln County process, filtering through maple charcoal. When the new distillery bearing Nearest Green’s name opened in Tennessee last year, Jack Daniels took out a full page ad in the Lynchburg paper welcoming their new neighbors back to town.

The three programs funded by the Nearest & Jack Initiative will be led by an advisory board with members from both distilleries. In collaboration with Motlow College, the team has been working on curriculum for the Nearest Green School of Distilling for the past year. Pending accreditation from the Tennessee board of Regents, the STEM based program focused on employable skills is hoping to offer a certificate as soon as Fall of 2021.

The LAP has already identified their inaugural class of apprentices, who will begin shadowing at top distilleries across the country. These young men and women, already in the whiskey industry, will learn the role of head distiller or master of maturation from the best in the business.

The BIP plans to offer African American entrepreneurs mentorship in all areas of the distilling business, including access to top marketing firms, branding executives, expanded distribution networks and other assets and opportunities to grow their spirits businesses. Through these three organizations, the brands hope to do more than just talk the talk when it comes to the current conversations on diversity.

Fawn Weaver, CEO, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Courtesy Photo.

“Generally, when companies talk about the need to improve diversity, few immediate action steps follow,” said Fawn Weaver, CEO, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. “Our group is different. We are doers, and we all agreed to work together to improve diversity in our industry, and specifically, a way to get African Americans into top positions within our industry. Nearest Green taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey and we’re incredibly proud our companies are joining forces to further their legacies of excellence, and to make distilling and the whiskey industry we love more diverse.”

“Given our deep commitment to diversity and inclusion, I am thrilled we are coming together in this way today,” said Lawson Whiting, President and Chief Executive Officer, Brown-Forman Corporation, the parent company of Jack Daniel’s. “This collaboration allows the extraordinary friendship of Nearest and Jack, and the hope they embodied during racially divided times in our country’s history, to help us advance the next generation of African American leaders in our industry.”

Caroline Paulus
Caroline Paulus is the Senior Editor for The Bourbon Review. She lives and writes in Lexington, Kentucky. Follow her on Instagram @misswhiskeyhistorian to keep up with her latest in bourbon news - and a few old finds, too.