Before he died last month while attending a whiskey festival in San Francisco, master distiller Dave Pickerell partnered with longtime SF-based rock band Metallica to create their own whiskey, called Blackened. That blend of bourbons, ryes, and whiskeys — selected by Pickerell and blasted with Metallica’s music while it aged in barrels — is being released in Bay Area markets today. And despite Pickerell’s sudden passing from hypertensive heart failure, the company they created, Sweet Amber Distilling Co., will soldier on, opening a distillery in the Bay Area sometime next year. They’ll call it the Dave Pickerell Distillery, a representative for the brand confirms.
Pickerell, 62, was touring with Metallica before his death. Once nicknamed the Johnny Appleseed of American whiskey, the distiller spent 14 years growing the Maker’s Mark brand and shaping craft distilleries including Vermont’s groundbreaking Whistlepig.
Metallica — who are singer and guitarist James Hetfield, drummer Lars Ulrich, guitarist Kirk Hammett, and bassist Robert Trujillo — approached Pickerell last year to commission their own whiskey. The band’s heavy drinking antics are well documented, but a thing of the past, according to interviews.
“They basically said, ‘We want to do a whiskey, but we don’t want it to be overly-branded ‘Metallica,’” Pickerell told Revolver magazine earlier this year. “‘We want it to be a partnership deal, and we want it to be awesome. Go!’”
Sweet Amber Distilling, a company billed as their collaboration, is helmed by CEO John Bilello, an industry veteran who spent 18 years with Seagram Company. Metallica’s name isn’t on Blackened’s bottle (although it’s named for one of their songs). But, in sense, they’re in there, somewhere. Working with Berkeley-based Meyer Sound, Sweet Amber Distilling and Pickerell blasted Blackened’s whiskey barrels with low hertz sound waves of Metallica’s music. Metallica guitarist Kirk Hammett calls it the band’s own “musical stamp.”
The project would be Pickerell’s last.
“The Metallica family is stunned and in disbelief at the loss of our friend and partner, Dave Pickerell,” the band wrote in a release following his death. “He was not only a mentor and friend, we considered him a member of Metallica. We learned so much from Dave in the all too brief time we had together. But more than anything, Dave was our good friend and we will miss him tremendously.”
Stay tuned for more details on the Dave Pickerell Distillery as the project moves forward.