Kate Jerkens & Uncle Nearest
A New Award-Winning Whiskey with Tennessee History
Kate Jerkens is Senior Vice President of Global Sales & Marketing for Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey is inspired by the best whiskey-maker the world never knew – the first known African-American master distiller, Nathan “Nearest” Green.
Kate oversees all areas of sales, marketing, and distribution efforts for the brand throughout the United States and beyond. Under Kate’s leadership, Uncle Nearest has become the fastest-growing independent American whiskey brand in history. What started as a temporary project for Jerkens quickly turned into a mission and role that now brings her an immense amount of pride.
What should we know about Kate?
When founder and CEO Fawn Weaver approached Kate with the idea of starting the whiskey brand, Kate found a new love. With more than 15 years of experience in the hotel and hospitality industry under her belt, Kate brings a fresh perspective to the spirits world. In her role, Kate works to solidify Uncle Nearest as a top premium spirits brand with distributors and at bars and restaurants worldwide. Kate told us that she still loves a great hotel lobby bar and looks forward to more good times ahead in hotels.
How did owner and operator Fawn Weaver become inspired to create the Uncle Nearest brand?
Fawn Weaver read a New York Times article in 2016 about the history of the Jack Daniel’s recipe and how a man named Uncle Nearest taught Jack Daniels everything he knew about whiskey making. Her interest in the story led her to a quest to Lynchburg where she bought a farm and birthed a dream to bring a new whiskey, based on historical roots, to market.
How did the new brand ramp up so quickly?
The new brand relied on shelf presence, public relations, awards, social media and outdoor in key markets to get the word out about the new brand. The whiskey debuted in 2017 and in just a few short years has become the most awarded new American premium whiskey brand in United States history. The story of the brand is such a strong asset to the marketing. As they say, “The Best American Story You Have Never Heard.”
How does marketing to women become part of the Uncle Nearest strategy?
Uncle Nearest has the first all-women executive team for a major brand in the spirits industry.
The owner operator, senior management of Uncle Nearest and the master blender are all women. Today’s master blender is Victoria Eady Butler, the first known African-American woman Master Blender in the American spirits industry and a descendant of Nathan “Nearest” Green. She recently won 2021 Master Blender of the Year from Whisky Icons of America.
And that certainly makes a statement about the importance of the brand to women. Uncle Nearest is constantly introducing women to whiskey and debunking the myth that brown liquor is only for men. While women made up only 15% of whiskey drinkers in the 90s, now more than 30% of women are consumers.
With COVID-19 halting many of the experiential events of marketing spirits, how has Uncle Nearest continued to thrive?
Uncle Nearest has conducted tastings, introduced ambassadors, given cocktail demonstrations and more online since COVID disrupted their other plans. And the brand continued to grow. It is currently distributed in all 50 states.
Tell us about the new distillery in Shelbyville.
Uncle Nearest is in phase 2 of a 270-acre distillery in Shelbyville. The new distillery was recently called “Malt Disney World” by the press, and the distillery plans to be not only a tasting room but a place for families to gather.
How has Uncle Nearest decided to give back?
The Nearest Green Foundation was created to ensure that, once his story has been told, it will never again be forgotten. Already in the works are artifacts being placed on permanent loan to the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.; plans for a museum in Lynchburg dedicated to the history of Tennessee whiskey; the renaming of a street to Nearest Green Way; the Nearest Green Memorial Park in Lynchburg; an improvement project at Highview Cemetery in Lynchburg, where Green is believed to have been buried; and a scholarship fund to benefit his direct descendants.
Resources and Links
Kate Jerkens on LinkedIn
Uncle Nearest website: https://unclenearest.com
Uncle Nearest on Facebook
Uncle Nearest on Instagram
The New York Times Article that Started it all: https://www.nytimes.com/2016/06/26/dining/jack-daniels-whiskey-nearis-green-slave.html