In 2016, Ms. Weaver, then a Los Angeles-based author and real estate investor, traveled to Lynchburg, Tenn., to research a potential book about Nearest Green, an expert distiller whose real name was Nathan. Mr. Green, while enslaved there, had mentored a young Jack Daniel.
Ms. Weaver’s ambitions quickly grew; she persuaded Brown-Forman to formally acknowledge Mr. Green as the brand’s first master distiller, and the following year she created the whiskey in Nearest’s name.
She said her fruitless search for a Black master distiller led her to fully comprehend the overwhelming whiteness of the world of American spirits. Margie A.S. Lehrman, the chief executive of the American Craft Spirits Association, said that the lack of diversity has long been an issue for the industry, and that only a handful of American distilleries are Black-owned or Black-run.
“It’s not that people of color don’t have an interest. It’s that we find that they have no path of entry into the industry, no connections where others may,” Ms. Lehrman said. “It’s a very, very tough industry to break into, and if you’re a woman or a person of color, it’s even harder.”
In the summer of 2020, Uncle Nearest and Jack Daniel’s announced a joint $5 million initiative intended to bring more Black entrepreneurs into distilling, in part by offering resources and mentorship to one Black-owned spirits company each year. So many Black entrepreneurs reached out for help that Uncle Nearest began its own side project, the Black Business Booster program, to help 16 companies at once.
Ms. Weaver said she quickly realized that no amount of support with branding, strategy and publicity would make a difference if these entrepreneurs continued to be shut out from capital. “Fund-raising is all about relationships,” she said. “If you don’t have those relationships, only a tiny fraction of people pitching investors will see funding.”