Booze | February 2, 2022 8:00 pm

Review: Uncle Nearest’s Master Blend Starts a New Legacy

The award-winning Tennessee distillery just released its first non-sourced whiskey

Uncle Nearest Master Edition Batch 005, the first in-house whiskey from the Tennessee distillery
Uncle Nearest Master Edition Batch 005, the first in-house whiskey from the Tennessee distillery
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

What we’re drinking: Master Blend Edition Batch 005 from Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Where it’s from: Uncle Nearest, based in Shelbyville, Tennessee,  has been the most-awarded whiskey brand of the past three years (it took home just under 200 honors in 2021, according to a press release). That’s an incredible accomplishment for a company that only launched in 2017. It’s also the best-selling African-American owned and founded spirits brand ever

And, as we’ve said repeatedly, Fawn Weaver’s brand honors one of the most important people in American whiskey history — Nathan “Nearest” Green, a 19th-century slave who helped teach his friend Jack Daniels about whiskey.

Why we’re drinking this: As much as we’ve liked Uncle Nearest’s first releases, they were all sourced product. Master Blend’s fifth edition marks the first whiskey released by the distillery that’s 100-percent distilled, aged and bottled by Uncle Nearest.

And we were excited to try this! We visited the Nearest Green Distillery the day before it opened to the public in 2019, though barrels had already been laid down two years earlier. 

One of the most interesting aspects of the whiskey is that it’s overseen by Victoria Eady Butler, a fifth-generation Nearest Green descendant and now the whiskey brand’s Master Blender. “I can’t explain it — I had a different job [at the Department of Justice] for almost 31 years, and then I flipped a switch and 60 days later I’m making whiskey,” she says. “That first batch was Uncle Nearest 1884, and I’ve worked on every batch since then.” 

Victoria Eady-Butler, Master Blender for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Victoria Eady Butler, Master Blender for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Master Blend 005, which Butler refers to as “really an upgrade from 1884,” is the first in-house whiskey in Uncle Nearest’s short history. It’s 4.5 years old, 118.4 proof and “the start of our legacy moving forward,” says Butler, as the releases now will slowly move to be 100% distilled and produced by the brand itself. 

How it tastes: Like every release from Uncle Nearest, this whiskey — which qualifies as both a bourbon and Tennessee whiskey in legal terms — goes through the Lincoln County Process, where it’s filtered through sugar-maple charcoal before aging in casks. 

There’s a lot going on here: Plenty of brown sugar and baking spices on the nose. On the palette, definite hints of vanilla, toasted oak, leather, dried fruits and even subtle notes of mint and coconut (particularly after adding a drop of water). It doesn’t taste like it’s 118-proof — it’s got backbone but it won’t knock out your palette. If someone said this whiskey had spent a moment or two in wine barrels (something sweet, like Port), I wouldn’t have been surprised (it did not, however).

Overall, it’s an elevated take on Nearest’s core products, and it gets better over time: you’ll find different notes popping up the more you sip.

The updated line of Uncle Nearest whiskeys and ryes, rolling out this year (and some in new packaging)
The updated line of Uncle Nearest whiskeys and ryes, rolling out this year (and in new packaging)
Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey

Interesting fact: This year Uncle Nearest will release several new products, including Uncle Nearest Rye, Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Rye and a new more widely available Uncle Nearest Single Barrel Whiskey. The portfolio will use four different mashbill recipes, and all the bottles will feature new packaging. 

Where to buy it: It’s really hard to get the Master Blend editions unless you go down to the distillery, but all the new releases just announced “should be rolling out this year” says Butler, who’s already done work on Master Blend 006.