Black woman-owned whiskey brand Uncle Nearest officially surpasses $1 billion valuation

BY Preta Peace Namasaba June 4, 2024 11:36 AM EDT
Fawn Weaver. Photo credit: Uncle Nearest

Fawn Weaver’s Uncle Nearest has made history as the fastest-growing American whiskey brand ever. According to Forbes, the business has an estimated valuation of $1.1 billion, placing Weaver on the publication’s list of richest self-made women. As previously reported by BlackStars News, Uncle Nearest reached a valuation of $900 million following an oversubscribed funding round in December for a French subsidiary.

Instead of following the traditional path of venture capital or private equity investment, Weaver has sought individuals who believe in the company’s long-term vision. She has raised $225 million from over 160 individual investors. Individual investors do not maintain more than a 2.3% stake in the company, and employees own less than 3%. Consequently, Weaver maintains control of the business with a 40% stake and 80% of the voting rights when combined with her husband, Keith.

“The most difficult thing in starting any business. It’s always the capital. Nobody really wants to invest until you’re already successful, but you can’t get successful without the investment. So, creating a way for me to raise money that didn’t include VC or PE or institutional lending and chasing after them, and having them meet to produce all these documents that most companies don’t even have till they’re 5, or 6 years old. I’m like, ‘Look, I’m not gonna do this. I’m gonna find enough individuals of high net worth who are accredited investors who are willing to back my vision, who are willing to believe in me, but will stay out of my way. They will help me, but they will not hinder me.’ And I raised over $225 million with individuals only,” Weaver explained how she managed to raise capital for her business.

The business has a 432-acre distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee that includes a history walk, four tasting areas, the world’s longest bar (518 feet), an outdoor music venue, an aging barn, a barbecue restaurant, and a snack shack. In 2023, the Uncle Nearest U.S. distillery was the seventh-most visited in the world with over 200,000 visitors. Uncle Nearest also recently purchased the largest Grand Champagne vineyard in Cognac, France, and Square One Organic Spirits, a boutique organic spirits company. The company is on track to reach $100 million in revenue for 2024 and has tripled its sales in the past three years.

Established in 2017, Uncle Nearest has deep historical roots. The brand pays tribute to the legacy of Nathan Green, a formerly enslaved master whiskey distiller known as Uncle Nearest, who taught Jack Daniel how to make Tennessee whiskey. Uncle Nearest is the first spirits brand to bear the name of a Black person and rapidly expanded from distribution in one state to all 50 states in less than two years. Its products are currently available in over 30,000 stores, bars, hotels, and restaurants across 12 countries.

Weaver intends to grow the whiskey brand to a $50 billion valuation. She has pledged to never profit directly from Uncle Nearest with her ultimate goal being to build a a legacy that will provide for Green’s family for generations to come. In 2019, she brought in Victoria Eady Butler, a descendant of Nathan Green, as the master blender, making her the first known African-American female whiskey master blender. Weaver regards financial success as just a starting point and has no plans to sell the company.

“I’m going to build it large as h-ll. When I pass it on, I don’t want it to be a $10 billion company. I want it to be a $50 billion company. I am never going to profit from Uncle Nearest. I’ve known it from day one. I’m raising up their family,” Weaver said about her plans for Uncle Nearest.