Victoria Eady Butler grew up in Lynchburg, Tennessee, playing in the springs that provide Jack Daniel's whiskey its unique Tennessee flavor.
"That was my playground," she said.
Throughout her life, she heard the stories from her grandmother about how her great-great-grandfather, Nathan "Nearest" Green, a slave, had befriended a young white boy named Jack Daniel and the two became friends. Eventually, Uncle Nearest would teach his new friend how to make whiskey using what became known as the Lincoln County Process, a unique filtering of bourbon through sugar maple charcoal.
Green's process became so renowned around the world, the state of Tennessee made it a law in 2013 that any product labeled as Tennessee whiskey had to be made with the process.
Butler always knew of her ancestor's role in the making of Jack Daniel's, but it wasn't until about three years ago when the rest of the world began hearing of Green's role. That's when Fawn Weaver, a best-selling author, started Uncle Nearest's 1856 Premium Whiskey and released the first batch.
Around the same time, Butler was retiring from a 31-year career in government and the two started talking. Butler said the idea of her becoming a Master Blender with the company "just lined up right. The conversation was very timely."
She will share her story, as well as that of her great-great-grandfather, as part of the Tennessee Whiskey Festival virtual edition on Sunday, Sept. 13.
The seven-year-old event will take a year off as an in-person happening and go online this year. It will still be a premium culinary and spirits festival and will benefit the Future Ready Institute of Hamilton County's Brainerd High School Culinary Arts Program.
Butler is one of four featured quests this year for the virtual 4 Courses and Whiskey Supper. Tickets are $150-$175. Participants will pick up their food and cocktails at Proof Bar & Incubator at 422 East Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. from 2-4:30 p.m. the day of the event and watch and chat along online as the chefs and Master Blender discuss their creations starting at 6 p.m.
Butler said her family has always had a great relationship with Daniel's descendent and the distillery.
"We all get along great," she said, adding that she didn't really really how important Green's role was or how popular Jack Daniel's whiskey is around the world until "I was a student at Middle Tennessee State University. It didn't really sink in. It just wasn't a big deal to us. He was a slave, and it was not unheard of that slaves didn't get credit for things, but the folks in Lynchburg knew."
The Uncle Nearest Distillery is just outside of Shelbyville, Tennessee, and the product is a blend of seven-year-old whiskeys that were made elsewhere.
"We don't distill there, yet," Butler said. "Our youngest whiskey is seven years old, but the product has been on the market three years."
She said it is in no way intended to be a Jack Daniel's knockoff, but it does follow the Lincoln County Process.
"We have no desire to duplicate or compete with Jack Daniel's," she said. "We are doing our own thing."
The other featured guests include Mashama Bailey, the executive chef and partner at The Grey in Savannah, Georgia.
James Beard named Bailey "2019 Best Chef of the Southeast" based on the dishes she creates using Southern ingredients, African flavors and European influences. She works with regional seafood, meat and seasonal produce. Born in the Bronx, she studied at the Institute of Culinary Education's New York campus and worked in New York City restaurants for many years, though her roots are in Georgia.
Bailey serves as chairman of the board of the Edna Lewis Foundation, which strives to "revive, preserve, and celebrate the rich history of African-American cookery" by cultivating a deeper understanding of Southern food and culture in America.
Tannoria Askew was born in Chattanooga and raised in Indianapolis, where she is the owner of Tannoria's Table. She is a passionate home cook turned chef. She also works as a personal chef and TV personality. A 2016 finalist on "Master Chef" season 7 hosted by Gordon Ramsay, Tannoria walked away as fourth-best home cook in America.
Ella Livingston is chocolatier of Cocoa Asante in Chattanooga. She was born in Ghana, West Africa, but moved to the United States at the age of 3. After studying abroad, she decided to bring a true taste of Ghana to Chattanooga and started Cocoa Asante, a chocolate truffle company that uses cocoa sourced from Ghana. Livingston has sold her handmade truffles directly to local businesses for resale and online to customers since 2018.
Tickets are available via Eventbrite at https://bit.ly/2FkVHxv.
Contact Barry Courter at firstname.lastname@example.org.