Whiskey Name: Uncle Nearest 1856
Distillery: Sourced from “two Tennessee Distilleries”
Whiskey Type: Tennessee whiskey
Release Date: General release
Price: Seems to be around $50. Ish. Still waiting on a UK release
Age: NAS. The distillery’s own-distilled whiskey is due to be aged for “a minimum of seven years”, so that could be a reasonable guess. Then again, if it’s a blend of the two, and there’s some young stuff in there … your guess is as good as mine.
Mashbill: Somewhere online I read 84% corn, 8% rye, 8% malted barley. But that could simply be someone making a guess at which Tennessee distillery this is sourced from.
Introduction/Background: Who else is fed up of the stories you constantly read on the back of whiskey bottles these days? I know I am. They’re always the same, and they’re always total bollocks.
There’s always some hardy, grizzled man of the woods with a chin you could grate granite on, legendary for killing seven bears with a single pistol shot and who whittled his own house with his bare teeth. He’s like Disney’s take on Davey Crockett, but less believable, and he probably beat Boone to Kentucky “only the history books don’t tell you that”.
And then obviously this mythical man – gender diversity in these stories is zilch – founded some distillery, and – wouldn’t you know it? – all the locals would flock to him for the finest whiskey in all the West, and the President himself was a customer. And years later he’d sit on the porch sipping brown likker and spitting tobacco and turning squirrels into hats and doing whatever else mythical frontier folk do before dying some noble death or other whilst saving his mate from being hacked into tartare by Geronimo.
And of course today the brand honours his legacy by whining at Heaven Hill or MGPI for spare juice and then flogging it to overly-moustachioed Shoreditch hipsters for about seven times what it’s worth.
That’s more or less the standard schtick, give or take a few lines about the purest water of the Rocky mountains. Sourced whisky brands are the main culprits, but certainly not the only ones.
So it’s very refreshing indeed to find a brand telling a story about one of whiskey’s unsung heroes. Uncle Nearest is a Tennessee brand that honours a former slave turned distiller who helped to create the Lynchburg method for which Tennessee whiskey is famous today. (And no, that’s not an invitation to open the boring, obvious debate. Although apocryphally Uncle Nearest passed on several of his distilling skills to the ubiquitous Mr Daniels.)
American whiskey (actually, all whiskey) brands tend to shy away from, or completely ignore the often murky history of their spirit. I recommend reading the collected works of Fred Minnick for clarity on some of this, and Bourbon by Dane Huckelbridge is also worth a peek (though he’s forever getting overexcited about gunfights in Western saloons). But first of all, I’d direct you to the Uncle Nearest website, where you can read the brand story in more detail than we can go into here.
As regards the whiskey itself, Uncle Nearest are currently distilling and maturing their own juice, which I gather will be bottled at around seven years old. Some of the details of the process are online, and worth a few moments looking at. I’m particularly interested in their lengthy fermentation time, and would be intrigued to hear them talk a little more about the “local grains”.
In the meantime, we have the 1856. It’s a sourced whiskey from “two of Tennessee’s distilleries”, bottled at 100 proof. And, in the spirit of full disclosure, BBS was sent a free sample to review from. In fact we were sent a bottle, which was very generous, but was also why I sent a large chunk of it round to various members of the group.
Free samples are often the nature of the game; it’s exposure, as you know and I know. But they should never engender positive reviews in and of themselves. Brands that want to send us anything are fully aware of our “house rules” and know that we’ll give something a kicking where deserved. After all, if BBS members buy something I’ve said is really good, and it turns out to be rotten, it’s very easy for them to yell at me.
Anyway, that was a long preamble. Apologies. How’s the whiskey you ask?
Appearance: Light copper
Nose: Nutty at first – very nutty – then sweetens the longer you nose it. Peanut brittle. The alcohol isn’t particularly well-integrated; really prickles your nose up, despite being just 50%. And there’s a curious saline note too – almost ozone – before some confected banana. Wonder how deep the char on the casks was… Treacle and syrup over musty hay.
Mouth: Very simple palate. Vanilla, caramel, more of that nutty brittle. It’s definitely not too young; the grain, whilst it’s apparent, isn’t raw. Nor is it over-oaked. There’s a little oiliness but the flavours seem a little thin; a little “pared back”. Is that all the filtration? Or is it simply that the sourced spirit itself is a bit weedy? Again, the booze is pretty biting for the proof.
Finish: Shortish. More nuts.
Value for Money: Depends what they set the price at.
Summary: Meh. Some good points, but it’s basic stuff. The world won’t move, but this is a blended Tennessee whiskey with no stated age – did you expect it to? It’s better than this stuff, but that’s not saying much. A mild dose of shingles is better than Gentleman Jack.
I’d say it’s worth a punt if it’s anywhere between £30-£35, and if you’ve tried all the usual suspects. If it sells for £40-£50 it might be worth a glass or two at a bar. It’s alright. It’s not terrible. I’ve reviewed far worse here. But, as I say, meh. Based on what they’re doing, I imagine their own distilled whiskey will be far tastier when ready.
Overall Verdict: I like the story more than I like the whiskey (very rare), though the whiskey won’t kill you, and I look forward to their own distillation being ready.
In the meantime I’m also looking forward immensely to the BBS single barrel pick from Uncle Nearest. I’m nothing whatsoever to do with it myself this time, so I’ve nothing to share about it on the flavour front. But it’s 12 years old, cask strength, and several very whiskey-fussy people have said very enthusiastic things to me about it. I’ll be first in line, and based on previous BBS casks I recommend you get in quickly.
On which note, I’m afraid this is my last BBS review. At least for the foreseeable future. Thanks very much for reading my scribbles – can’t wait to read reviews from whoever starts scribbling next. Cheers folks.