Details You Didn't Know About Metallica's Blackened Whiskey

From celebrity-owned alcohol brands to collaborative ventures like Nick Jonas' tequila, famous people have often gravitated toward the booze business. Heavy metal music juggernaut Metallica is no exception, and naturally, the band has turned its focus toward the most rock 'n' roll liquor out there: whiskey.  

Since Metallica is not exactly your average band, it makes sense that their whiskey is far from the most obvious band-name brand out there. For instance, if you see a bottle of it on a bar shelf, you might not even realize what you're looking at, because Blackened Whiskey doesn't exactly advertise being a Metallica product on its label. That's because it's way more than "just" a Metallica product, while simultaneously being far more about the band than a casual customer could possibly imagine. Let's take a closer look about this strange alcohol and its impressive background, and examine some details you probably didn't know about Metallica's Blackened Whiskey.

Blackened Whiskey is an award-winning blended whiskey

Though Blackened Whiskey is named after the opening song of Metallica's iconic ...And Justice For All album, its label doesn't actually boast about the band's involvement. Instead, the bottle prominently bears the signature of Dave Pickerell, the master craft distiller who created the drink. 

According to its bottle, Blackened is "a blend of straight whiskeys finished in black brandy casks," though it's worth noting that the process includes certain extra steps that are unique to the product (more about those in a minute). Pickerell used a blend of ryes and bourbons, and the end result tilts toward the bourbon end of the spectrum, with rye balancing out the sweetness. The black brandy casks come into play with a hint of apricot in the finish. 

The ensuing liquor, as you may suspect, is worlds away from some half-hearted swill created for money-grabbing purposes. Proof? Blackened took home a gold medal at the 2020 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

Blackened Whiskey is flavored with Metallica's music

While Pickerell might be the man who created Blackened Whiskey, Metallica has also been intimately involved in the process. Per Esquirethe master distiller created a special method that uses the band's music to make the whiskey — literally. Suspecting that the low frequencies in the band's music would be enough to alter the whiskey's flavor, Pickerell started blasting Metallica songs at the whiskey casks. The extremely unorthodox process was a success. "You can taste the music," Pickerell said. "I've done blind tastings with people, and they can clearly differentiate between two batches, and the only difference is the playlist."

As such, every batch of Blackened Whiskey has been not-so-subtly spiced with Metallica's actual music — and not just some random songs Spotify decided to shuffle into the mix, either. The band itself carefully curates new playlists for each batch, and if you want to compare two batches and taste the subtle difference the music makes, the Blackened Whiskey website helpfully provides the soundtracks used for each and every one.

The scientific side of Blackened Whiskey

Adding music in the whiskey-making process may sound like a dubious concept that was solely created to link Blackened Whiskey and Metallica in an interesting way. Pickerell didn't just waltz in the distillery one day and turn the volume up to 11 on a hunch, however. Aided by scientists and other professionals, he determined that the low frequencies of music can help the whiskey to interact with the barrel in a flavor-influencing way much faster than usual. The team arrived to this result by ardently studying the effects of "subwoofing" the liquor in order to make it move inside the barrel, taking all sorts of measurements and observing the process with top technology.

According to Ultimate Classic Rock, the system is known as "Black Noise." Pickerell had actually wanted to try something like it since his military years, after seeing a giant pipe organ at West Point and hearing it play a note that caused massive vibrations in its surroundings. For Blackened Whiskey, the process is fine-tuned in a way that the Metallica tunes used to vibrate the whiskey barrels play at such a low frequency that human ears can only pick up a "vibrating hum." While this is all very cool and scientific, some fans may be mildly disappointed to hear that the entire distillery isn't constantly rocking out to Seek & Destroy during the barrel-aging stage. 

The master distiller who created Blackened Whiskey died during the project

According to Esquire, Pickerell was both a huge Metallica fan and essentially the "Metallica" of his own profession. He was a highly esteemed whiskey professional with 14 years as the master distiller at Maker's Mark under his belt, as well as a number of his own, well-regarded creations. As such, he was over the moon to learn that the band wanted him to create an original Metallica whiskey. "There was sunshine coming out my ears," as Pickerell described the moment the band's name was revealed to him in the negotiations.

Motivated and inspired by the band connection, Pickerell created a truly unique whiskey that utilizes a manufacturing process like no other. Blackened Whiskey was launched in August 2018, with the intention to open a distillery in 2019. However, Pickerell unexpectedly died of heart failure in November 2018. Though this was a massive blow, Metallica decided to push forward. To drive home how much the project meant for him, drummer Lars Ulrich even likened Pickerell's fate to the tragic death of Cliff Burton, the band's original bassist. "I think that in the same way referencing when we lost Cliff, our bass player, in 1986, it felt like the path to honor [Pickerell's] legacy was to move forward," said Ulrich. "To throw in the towel would be a surrender to the principles that he stood for."

Blackened Whiskey after Dave Pickerell

As Ulrich promised, Blackened's story didn't end with Pickerell's death. In June 2019, Metallica's official website paid a heartfelt tribute to their original master distiller, as well as introduced the new one. These days, Blackened Whiskey's main man is Rob Dietrich, a U.S. Army veteran with ample experience in the music business, having worked a multitude of industry jobs ranging from tour manager to venue agent. Oh, and naturally, he's a highly trained and distinguished whiskey craftsman who's more than capable of taking Blackened Whiskey to wherever it may go.   

Dietrich both respects Pickerell for his accomplishments and is extremely enthusiastic about working with Blackened's sonic techniques. In 2020, he told Ultimate Classic Rock that the Blackened manufacturing process holds secrets that may eventually be revealed, after the obligatory patents go through. He also has some pretty great expectations for the future of the product. "[The band members are] giving me free reign to come up with some new creations," he teased. "I get to really apply some unique aspects to making some future expressions."

As for Metallica, they couldn't possibly be happier about the way Blackened has turned out. "I love it," Ulrich has described the product. "It's given me a new relationship with whiskey, obviously because you're super proud with what you've done. And the idea that you can reach for a bottle and go, I'm pouring some of my own beverage, that's pretty cool."