Every year, 275,000 people tour a distillery in Lynchburg, Tennessee, that is the home base for America’s top-selling whiskey, Jack Daniel’s. Now in its 152nd year, the Jack Daniel’s brand is responsible for $3 billion in sales yearly-not bad for a company whose signature product is distilled in a dry county where alcohol sales are prohibited. When Jack Daniel was a youngster he was taken under the wing of a Lutheran minister named Dan Call, who spent his time away from the pulpit preaching to the masses about the virtues of finely crafted whiskey. When Call’s congregation gave him the ultimatum of picking either God or booze, Call went with God. The reigns of Call’s modest single-still operation were handed over to Daniel, whose first major decision calling the shots was the hiring of his new company’s Master Distiller: an ex-slave named Nearest Green.
Green had been the distilling brains behind Call’s whiskey, but he was there as a slave belonging to the reverend. Daniel was never a slaver owner, and when slavery came to an end in America in 1865 and Daniel opened his distillery the following year Green was brought onboard at the urging of Call and by most accounts was treated as an equal by Daniel. Leading up to that point slaves were vital in the distilling business across the state of Tennessee, and made up the majority of the labor force in the industry. As time went on, the name Nearest Green was never forgotten by the Jack Daniel’s company, but it was quietly pushed aside until it became more like a myth passed around by locals-this despite seven generations of Green’s descendants working for the company and the unearthing of 10,000 documents linking him to Jack Daniel’s by writer Fawn Weaver. It wasn’t until 151 years after its founding that people taking the guided tour of the Jack Daniel’s distillery even heard the name Nearest Green, but as of May, 2017, Jack Daniel’s officially lists Nearest Green as its first official Master Distiller.