Booze | September 22, 2022 2:31 pm

Meet the First Graduates of an Ambitious Whiskey Apprenticeship

Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel's multi-million-dollar initiative seeks to advance diversity within the American whiskey industry

Byron Copeland, the new Manager of Leadership Acceleration and Maturation Innovation at the Jack Daniel Distillery
Byron Copeland, the new manager of leadership acceleration and maturation innovation at Jack Daniel's.
Uncle Nearest/Jack Daniel's

Two years ago Jack Daniel Distillery and Nearest Green Distillery set up a groundbreaking $5 million mentorship program called the Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative, with a stated goal to “work with participants representing the BIPOC community who aspire to become head distillers, heads of maturation, and production managers.” This week, we saw some encouraging results: Byron Copeland graduated from a two-year apprenticeship within the initiative’s Leadership Acceleration Program and was named manager of leadership acceleration and maturation innovation at the Jack Daniel Distillery. Tracie Franklin, another participant in the program, also graduated.

“It’s been a dream to work side-by-side with some of the best whiskey makers in the industry at the Jack Daniel Distillery over the last two years,” Copeland said in a statement. “Having the opportunity to help others just like me is something that I cherish, and I can’t wait to help others establish their careers in this industry.”

In his new role, Copeland will oversee operations with a focus on ongoing improvements to the whiskey-making process and site management, lead and mentor others in the Leadership Acceleration Program for Jack Daniel’s, and work closely with Master Distiller Chris Fletcher and Assistant Distiller Lexie Phillips to lead whiskey maturation innovation and development.

The Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative was one of the first in a recent wave of financial commitments from larger spirits brands to both bring new people into an industry that needs a better and more diverse pipeline of talent and invest in drinks brand founders from underrepresented communities. Last year, Distill Ventures (an independent drinks accelerator funded by Diageo) began a Pre-Accelerator program to help unlock seed funding, which they noted was “a key barrier reported by entrepreneurs from historically underrepresented communities.” And last year, Uncle Nearest also launched the Uncle Nearest Venture Funda $50 million fund created to invest in BIPOC and women-owned spirit brands.