Drinks Innovators of the Year: Fawn Weaver and Victoria Eady Butler

Uncle Nearest CEO Fawn Weaver and master blender Victoria Eady Butler are carving out an ever-growing space for Black female voices in the whiskey world.

portraits of Fawn Weaver and Victoria Eady Butler
Photo: Eric Ryan Anderson

Here's the story: In the 1850s, an enslaved man, Nathan "Nearest" Green, was the one who taught a young Jack Daniel how to distill Tennessee whiskey. Once the Civil War was over, Daniel then hired Green, now a free man, to be his first head distiller. But that story—Nathan Green's story — remained largely unrecognized for over a century. That was until 2017, when Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey debuted. Created by CEO Fawn Weaver, Uncle Nearest highlights Nearest Green's legacy one bottle at a time. "When you're an African American or a woman who has figured out a pathway to success within an industry that's historically been reserved for white males, it becomes your responsibility to pull as you climb. At least, that's how I look at it," Weaver says.

See all of Food & Wine's 2022 Drinks Innovators of the Year

In less than five years, the company has expanded into all 50 states as well as 12 countries, nearly tripling its volume between 2018 and 2019 alone. It's one of the fastest-growing whiskeys in America, pandemic or no.

Chalk that success up to Weaver and her all-female leadership team, which includes one of Green's descendants. Victoria Eady Butler, Green's great-great-granddaughter, is Uncle Nearest's master blender and the first known Black woman master whiskey blender in history. "I'm proud that the Uncle Nearest executive team is the first all-female executive team in the whiskey industry and that we've set a standard of excellence for others to model," Butler says. "We are the example of what strong, dedicated, determined, committed females can do in decision-making positions." Together, she and Weaver are carving out an ever-growing space for Black female voices in the whiskey world.

Fawn Weaver

I refuse to wait until I've got it all figured out before I begin helping others.

— Fawn Weaver

In June 2021, Weaver also launched the $50 million Uncle Nearest Venture Fund. Its mission is to invest in fast-growing minority-founded and -owned spirit brands. "The global market for alcoholic beverages is $1.48 trillion, and African Americans have never had an ownership share of that," Weaver says. "We've made others successful working as brand ambassadors, but not one of us has been able to build the success on our own. I'm changing that, and I refuse to wait until I've got it all figured out before I begin helping others." The fund's first two investments were in Equiano Rum, the world's first African and Caribbean rum, and in fellow 2022 Drinks Innovators of the Year honoree Jackie Summers' Jack From Brooklyn, which was the first Black-owned distillery in America post-Prohibition (and the source of Sorel Liqueur).

"Rather than complain about what we've been prevented from accomplishing, I'm simply accomplishing it myself and then using my resources to help other women- and BIPOC-founded, -owned, and -led companies to do the same," Weaver says. "For us, 'what's next' is always 'what's now.' And the first 'what's now' for us is carving Nearest Green, the world's first-known African American master distiller, into the Mount Rushmore of whiskey."

What to Try

Uncle Nearest 1856 Premium Aged Whiskey ($59)
A proprietary mix of corn, rye, and malted barley gives this complex Tennessee whiskey a smooth, caramel richness, with plenty of vanilla and oak spice to round it out.

Where to Find Uncle Nearest

Website: unclenearest.com
Instagram: @unclenearest
Facebook: unclenearest
YouTube: Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Meet the 2022 Drinks Innovators of the Year

Fawn Weaver and Victoria Eady Butler | Bill Shufelt | Morgan McLachlan | Jason Haas | Graciela Ángeles Carreño | Jackie Summers

Was this page helpful?
Related Articles