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Advice from Female Ground Breakers: Fawn Weaver and Marianne Eaves

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

When you think of whiskey leaders, innovators, founders, distillers and most importantly: Captains of Industry- your mind tends to conjure up a towering gritty old intimidating man. Well, that’s changing.

By now everyone knows who Fawn Weaver is; Historian, Best Selling Author, and founder of Uncle Nearest. The Tennessee whiskey that carries a story with every glass poured. On the other side of Tennessee is a little state known for making a bit of whiskey as well-Kentucky; and that is where Marianne Eaves comes into the picture. The first ever female master distiller hailing from the state. Separate, but together- the duo has kicked down the door, ushering in a new generation of much needed perspective. I sat down with each of these women to get some insight into our business and more importantly-women in leadership. What I got was some great life lessons, not just for us industry folk, but everyone who dares to lead.

The full interviews are available at, here are some key take-aways:

Sonny & Fawn: SN: Your background as a minority Entrepreneur, Bestselling Author (The Happy Wives Club), Chief Historian, Owner of Uncle Nearest, the list goes on and on; How do you balance all of this out?

FW: To the outside world, it seems that I am always going; I’m actually just very efficient at what I do, and I make sure to take 24 hours off every week for the last 20 years.

SN: Are you chasing adrenaline or more success, what is your endgame? FW: I don’t see it as chasing, I am just living my truth. Endgame, my endgame is that this company is growing, and I would be disappointed if in four generations from now; this company wasn’t still growing with someone who looked a lot like me.

SN: Touching on "Multi Cultural" positions:

FW: I absolutely hate that we have isolated a set of people and essentially denied them access to the breathe of the full portfolio, so I would like to blow those departments up.

SN: A lot of people doing the hard work, at the end of the day aren’t in the board room at the end of the day, and that is a disservice in my opinion.

FW: There is a distinction between keeping people out and just surrounding yourself with people that one is used to seeing and comfortable with. That’s something that is being worked on over time.

FW On Planning and Preparation: Never thought of it, every aspect of my life has been purpose driven. The opportunities that I have, have been all purpose drive results done organically, presented to me because I am living for purpose.

SN: That brings us back to what we touched on earlier, if you do things for the right reasons; organically-opportunities will present themselves?

FW: Absolutely, for a lot of people, they put limitations on themselves and limit themselves by what they perceive what’s going to happen to them. I don’t see hurdles, I just go over, under and around as needed to get what’s needed to get done, no excuses.

SN: So, self-perpetuation manifestation is something you absolutely believe in? If you think there are barriers and obstacles, you are leaving yourself room for excuses.

SN: What is your target demo that you attribute your 9th qt triple digits gains, throughout the pandemic? FW: I think it’s the exact opposite, we don’t have a target audience. People think because of our story and ownership, we target just African Americans; we make up 14% of the population-what sense would that make. When I was first pitching and targeting distributors; a funny thing I would do is; whomever I would end up speaking with would inevitably ask me that questions. I would just look back at them and reflect whatever they are back to them, because that is what our company is made up of and that is who we really target…everybody.

SN: How is the Nearest & Jack Advancement going?

FW: Amazing, my phone lights up daily and I am helping others who are trying to make something special in their own respect.

SN: So you are helping where you can.. FW: Yes, for instance, I was a keynote speaker at Goldman Sachs last week, as I was asked to advise on how they could help, and what I told them was simple. These days, the difference isn’t money, it’s the business plan. The way they could help was to not just reject someone because of their business plan but reach back out and advise them of what was lacking form their plan. You have to remember, generally, the gap between getting financed and not is the knowledge of what types of business plans get accepted; most people of color are first generation money; people of non-color have been putting together solid busines plans forever, we have not.

SN: I must ask this, will the Uncle Nearest brand spin off, sell, or become a sector of another company?

FW: It won’t happen, why would I build the first major African American spirits brand, just to sell it?

SN: The reason I ask; I have seen a million times- brands get built up, thrown against the wall for a short-term money opportunity; the brands integrity and equity are lost at the same time, and I don’t think anyone wants to see that.

SN: What type of advice would you give a female or minority who wants to move up in their company with ideas

FW: The same advice I would give to anyone; leapfrog and present your ideas. If you are waiting for someone to give you your dues, you are going be waiting a long time.

SN: What is your favorite Whisk(e)y outside of Uncle Nearest?

FW: Dickel Bottle in Bond and Henry Mckenna10 year.

SN: Any insights into line extensions?

FW: We don’t do line extensions, but we do have a brand we have in R&D.

Sonny and Marianne Eaves:

SN: When I think of Marianne, I think marrying art and science. How do they balance themselves out?

Marianne: I always considered myself a creative person, but in engineering school beat the creativity out of me. Brown Foreman allowed me to be creative and let me experience the liquid and process that is so unique. I get to combine my strengths, art, and science: The ability to marry art in science. My Chemical engineering background meeting a world filled with pallet driven, taste profiles with subtle nuances that come together beautifully. SN: Authenticity: Consumer perspective and ability to spot the real thing is at an all-time high, and the ability for a master distiller to be authentic goes hand in hand with that.

Marianne: Something that helped me stand out in the industry, was that I was fresh into the industry and that forced me to have a fresh perspective and come up with new ways to develop processes.

SN: This article will be getting out to tens of thousands of female and minority folks in the industry- A majority of the spirits world is male driven and are extremely large scale businesses, often trading publicly.

Statistically-females are more likely to land a management position, but 90% them will be kept at mid-level positions. What advice would you give them in the face of the good ol boys club?

Marianne: At the beginning of my career I was a true introvert, there was a woman named Nancy Warfield at Brown Foreman, that really pushed me to get out of my comfort zone, in order to experience things and been seen. Start somewhere similar into the sector you want to eventually be in. Make sure your work ethic is known and shown. Follow your passion and take every opportunity that is thrown your way, and make sure you raise your hand for opportunity. Do not let anyone, regardless of gender sway you from what you want to get done with your goal.

SN: Brown Foreman, Castle and Key Project, the first female master distillery in Kentucky, Sweetens Cove-All on your terms and your timeline, I have a feeling you like a challenge and you don’t mind being out on a tight rope.

Marianne: I don’t want to be somewhere too long with someone else driving the bus. Being a bit fearless is a part of who I am as well. Looking at Castle and Key when it was a pile of rubble with broken windows, to building the entire distillery up and laying down amazing products was a way to make my path myself. You must trust yourself to take the next step that’s right for you.

SN: I can agree with you on that. I have been in situations where I have been doing well, trusting your own abilities are crucial to putting yourself on a tightrope with no net when transitioning into something new.

SN: What do you think of the grass roots success story of Fawn Weaver and Uncle Nearest (Tennessee) , I feel like you helped pave a wave for bold females to step up and dominate..

Marianne: I think it’s absolutely incredible, I worked at Brown Foreman, so I knew the story. Fawn is definitely the woman to lead that incredible story. For some folks it may have been uncomfortable at first, but it does not matter, they are delivering the right message and they are going to do amazing.

SN: Future Projects? Lots of exciting stuff, I tease it on Social sometimes. I am consulting and hoping for a way to build my own brand. I will be building the first ever Chinese whiskey soon, which is exciting. I am taking steps towards my vision. I have a mobile laboratory with my RV and a mobile distillery; something will pop, and I will wait for the right opportunity.

SN: I put out an article about the industry leaning towards luxury in the future, where do you see the industry going?

Marianne: I agree with that wholeheartedly, the industry is definitely leaning that way, and super premium luxury will continue to grow.

You see that with products like Sweetens Cove selling out in three minutes.

If you have the patience to lay down the proper product, you can have something special.

SN: Absolutely, there is a rush to jump on the craft whiskey train, but you must have the right juice, and time. You must lay it down and wait for it to be ready, and hope the market is where you need it to be when its eventually ready, because you will not be able to switch up the label and age and trick savvy consumers these days.

SN: Last question- what is your favorite whisky?

Marianne: I will forever be a fan of #Woodford double oak. When I was in R&D at Brown Foreman, I had an opportunity

to see if go from start to finish and it has a lot of the caramel and sweet notes and everything that makes a great bourbon.

Full Interviews Can be found here:



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