The synergy between music and whiskey is undeniable. How often do you pour a particular dram and the spin just the right tune to accompany it? It’s a real part of the music and whiskey experience and late distilling legend Dave Pickerell wanted to take it even deeper. Pickerell partnered with the legendary rock band Metallica to take this symbiotic relationship between booze and music into the juice of a whiskey, quite literally, with Blackened American Whiskey.
Pickerell was able to finish and launch the product but unexpectedly passed away in 2018. In June of 2019, Rob Dietrich — the former head distiller of Colorado’s Stranahan’s — joined the Blackened Whiskey team as the new master distiller and blender. “It was really important for me to be an authentic brand and not just like a gimmick,” Dietrich told me. “This goes back to Dave Pickerell’s talent and years in the industry and literally tying in the music.”
When Metallica came up with the idea to create a whiskey, they wanted to craft something that independently stood on its own. Dietrich remembers that “they didn’t want to approach a whiskey that was already being made and say, ‘Hey, can you make a Metallica line of whiskey and we’ll share royalties?’” Dietrich then used terms like “a thousand percent,” “perfectionists,” and “fingers in the process” to describe what Metallica wanted their whiskey to be and that’s how they found Dave Pickerell. And Pickerell delivered with a new way to age whiskey in the barrel.
So what exactly makes this whiskey so special? It’s something called the “sonic enhancement process,” Dietrich says. This is a method in which Metallica’s music is played to the whiskey. It’s trademarked as Black Noise. They believe that this is where the magic happens. And yes, you’re allowed to roll your eyes. But you also have to read about how this works too.
So, Pickerell worked with Meyer Sound — the sound company that provides all of Metallica’s traveling sound gear and engineering — and they provided a device in which music is played at a low frequency. In fact, it’s played so low — between four and eleven hertz — that you can’t even hear the song. So what’s going on? “It vibrates the barrel so vigorously that the whiskey is moving in and out of the wood at a very rapid pace,” Dietrich explains. “So, the whiskey is actually interacting with the wood at a much more rapid pace than if it was just sitting there.”
In order to prove the science behind the sonic enhancement, Pickerell compared two barrels he’d been finishing in Spanish oak with one exposed to Black Noise and one not. He took samples from both barrels and sent them off to a lab to test the results about how the juice interaction with the wood. Dietrich says that “the barrel that had the sonic enhancement process to it, every single one of the flavor levels were elevated.” He adds, “I was completely blown away by that. We’re taking traditional methods and now we’re playing this innovation of sound literally using Metallica’s music to help make and change the whiskey.”
If your eyes are still rolling in disbelief and skepticism, you’re not alone. Despite knowing the brilliance of Pickerell and Dietrich, I too was a skeptic. Then I tried some.
Blackened American Whiskey
Distillery: Sweet Amber Distilling Company, Mineville, NY (Sourced)
Average Price: $149.99 (includes double vinyl box set)
Blackened is a blend of bourbon and rye whiskeys from Tennessee, Kentucky, Indiana, and Canada. It is aged in brand new white American oak barrels for an average of eight years and cask finished in Spanish brandy barrels. During that finishing process, the whiskey uses sonic enhancement called Black Noise. The low hertz vibrations of the music bash the blackened brandy casks, shaking the whiskey and allowing it to take in more flavor from the wood, or so they say.
Possessing a warm amber hue with the aroma of oak and stone fruit (particularly apricot and cherry), this whiskey lures you in. Baking spices, such as cinnamon and clove, dance with honey and vanilla notes for a creamy mouthfeel. The lingering finish has subtle hints of honey and maple without being overwhelmingly sweet.
It doesn’t taste gimmicky after all (sigh of relief)! This stuff is quality. Scientifically, the low-hertz vibrations enhance the whiskey, but I say it’s the blend of North American whiskeys that create this flavorful palate. It’s worth every penny down to the very last drop, plus it comes with a double vinyl set. Batch 100 is as in-your-face as Metallica’s discography, and with the higher proof tastes exceptional in an old fashioned.