Black woman-owned whiskey brand Uncle Nearest makes history as it reaches unicorn status

Abu Mubarik May 31, 2024
Fawn Weaver, CEO and founder of Uncle Nearest Premium Whiskey. Photo: UNCLE NEAREST

Uncle Nearest has achieved unrivaled success in the spirits industry since its launch in 2017. Not only is it the bestselling brand among black-owned wines, but it is also competing favorably with established brands.

It, therefore, came as no surprise when, in 2022, it was announced that its sales had exceeded $100 million, cementing its position as one of the most successful black-owned distilleries in the world. The U.S. distillery also became the seventh-most visited in the world, with well over 200,000 visitors in 2023. According to Forbes, those visits are profitable because one $150 bottle sold directly to a visitor has a greater margin than a case sold through distributors.

In February this year, Fortune reported that Uncle Nearest was approaching unicorn status, a feat few black businesses have been able to achieve. This followed the brand’s capital raise for its French subsidiary, which was oversubscribed.

Today, Uncle Nearest has reached unicorn status and there are seven Uncle Nearest releases—bourbons and ryes all produced under the direction of Victoria Eady Butler, Green’s great-great-granddaughter, according to Forbes.

The magazine conservatively estimates that the brand is worth $1.1 billion. What is more, including real estate, Weaver’s 40% stake makes her worth $480 million.

Forbes further indicated that Uncle Nearest has tripled sales since 2021, and expects $100 million in revenue this year, with 20% estimated net margins. These factors make Uncle Nearest the fastest-growing Ameri­can whiskey brand in history, it said citing spirits research firm IWSR data.

To build Uncle Nearest, Weaver did away with venture capital and private equity in favor of 163 individual investors, for an average check of $500,000 a person, according to Forbes. No single outside investor owns more than 2.3% and employees own less than 3%. This helps her to maintain control of the company. Despite owning 40% of Uncle Nearest, she maintains 80% of the voting rights when combined with her husband, Keith, Forbes wrote.

Uncle Nearest Premium Whisky was founded by Weaver to honor the memory of Nearest Green, an enslaved African American who helped Jack Daniel start his distillery.

The distillery became the first in U.S. history to honor an African-American whisky maker and one of the few distilleries in the country owned and operated by a black, female lead. 

“Built on its knack for sourcing the best of Tennessee whiskies and bourbons, the whisky is made using a non-temperature-controlled ageing process and a unique post-ageing double filtration method, which is then blended to perfection by fifth-generation Nearest Green descendant and Uncle Nearest’s master blender, Victoria Eady Butle,” the company wrote in a statement.

Despite the effect of COVID-19 on many businesses, particularly black businesses, Weaver weathered the storm to top the chart of bestselling African-American-owned whisky brands.

In 2021, the brand became the best-selling African-American-owned and founded spirit brand in the U.S. after selling nearly 1.5 million bottles of its sought-after super-premium whiskey. The company’s whisky portfolio of seven offerings is available at its distillery in Shelbyville, Tennessee, and in all 50 states, territories, and districts nationwide, it said in a statement released at the time.

Last Edited by:Mildred Europa Taylor Updated: May 31, 2024

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