Black-owned whiskey brand Uncle Nearest now valued at $900 million

BY Preta Peace Namasaba February 21, 2024 5:58 AM EDT
Fawn Weaver. Photo credit: Uncle Nearest

Without any experience in distilling, Fawn Weaver cofounded Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey in 2017. It has since become the best-selling Black-owned spirit brand in U.S. history and is among the fastest-growing American drinks companies. The brand is currently available in more than 30,000 stores, bars, hotels, and restaurants across all U.S. states and 12 countries. With a valuation of $900 million, Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is on the verge of becoming a unicorn.

“Now, I am in these rooms that people talk about. But in the beginning, when I was looking for capital, I wasn’t in these rooms. What happened is I went out, and I was networking everywhere and pounding the pavement at grocery stores, liquor tastings, trade shows, and golf clubs,” Weaver said about what it took to grow Uncle Nearest into a multimillion company.

The $900 million valuation follows the company’s oversubscribed funding round in December for a French subsidiary. It brings Uncle Nearest’s total capital raised since inception to $220 million. The first spirits conglomerate built by a woman and person of color, the company will use the funding to support its expansion into cognac at a newly acquired 100-acre property in Cognac, France.

In 2023, the Uncle Nearest U.S. distillery was the seventh-most visited in the world with over 200,000 visitors. It generated over $100 million in sales in 2022 and is on track to double the figures. Remarkably, Uncle Nearest was the most awarded Bourbon and American Whiskey of 2019, 2020, and 2021. Weaver plans on building the whiskey company into a Black-owned consumer brand that stands the test of time.

The concept behind Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is rooted in history. Weaver’s interest was piqued when she saw a photo of Jack Daniel and George Green, the son of a formerly enslaved master whiskey distiller, Nathan Green aka Uncle Nearest while on a trip in Singapore. After discovering that Uncle Nearest taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey, Weaver followed their story to Tennessee.

She purchased the 300-acre farm in Lynchburg, Tennessee where Nearest taught Jack how to distill and opened up the Nearest Green Distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee. It became the first spirits brand to bear the name of a Black person. In less than two years, Uncle Nearest went from distribution in one state to all 50 states.  

When it comes to raising funds, Weaver has sought out individuals who align with her long-term vision of cementing the legacy of the first known African American master distiller. She wants Uncle Nearest to be recognized alongside whiskey greats such as Jack Daniels, Jim Beam, and Johnnie Walker. The company hired Victoria Eady Butler, a descendant of Nathan Green as master blender in 2019. She became the first known African-American female whiskey master blender and has won numerous awards.

On the verge of attaining unicorn status, Uncle Nearest is giving back to the community. It has launched several initiatives, scholarship programs and a $50 million venture fund geared to empower African Americans.
“To reach this and every other milestone on our horizon, we continue to push nonstop. Every penny this company has earned has gone back into the business, as well as to put Nearest Green’s college-age descendants through college and to invest in minority-owned businesses and entrepreneurs through our Black Business Booster program (BBB), the Nearest and Jack Advancement Initiative (NJAI) and Uncle Nearest Ventures,” said Fawn Weaver.