Jack Daniels, the top-selling American whiskey brand in the world, has long said that a white moonshine maker was responsible for creating the popular bourbon. But this summer, the company that a slave might have been the actual mastermind behind the popular brown liquor.
The original story is that preacher and moonshine man Dan Call took in a young, orphaned Jack Daniels and taught him the family business. The pair reportedly went into business with one another in the late 1800s, then Daniels split from his mentor to find fame at the turn of the century.
Nearis Green, also known as Nearest or “Uncle Nearest,” was one of Call’s slaves. According to oral history, unproven documents and other informational tidbits, Green actually taught Call how to make the hooch. Daniels, a quick study, reportedly adopted what he learned from the men to make his own barrel-aged brand of spirits.
Across the Deep South, it is well-known that slaves worked in several distilleries and were rumored to have improved upon or created many techniques for the production of liquor across the region. Some historians allege that white moonshine men abused their authority and stole some of the slaves’ liquor-making recipes.
Skeptics of the Green story say it is nothing more than a convenient tale and marketing tool for younger drinkers, given that Jack Daniels is celebrating its 150th year in production. The Tennessee brand has often been touted as a consistent, middle-ground bourbon for those on a budget. But a rise in popularity in recent times has given Jack Daniels premium brand status.