Mike Veach, a whiskey historian, said the influence of enslaved African distillers may explain a mystery in the development of American whiskey. Traces of German, Scots-Irish and English distilling traditions are evident in the American style, but there’s much that can’t be traced to an earlier source — a gap that slave traditions might fill.
“I don’t know what role slaves would have played,” Mr. Veach said, “but I’m sure it was there.”
Fred Minnick, the author of “Bourbon Curious: A Simple Tasting Guide for the Savvy Drinker,” said it’s doubtful that a full accounting of enslaved people’s contribution to American whiskey will ever be written. “It’s extremely sad that these slave distillers will never get the credit they deserve,” he said. “We likely won’t ever even know their names.”
Despite the recent attention from Jack Daniel’s, Nearis Green’s name is just a faint echo, even among several of his descendants who live in the area. Claude Eady, 91, who worked for the distillery from 1946 to 1989, said he was related to Green “on my mother’s side,” but didn’t know much about him.
“I heard his name around,” he said. “The only thing I knew was that he helped Jack Daniel make whiskey.”