Metallica and Dave Pickerell. These two names hardly require an introduction when discussing their respective fields. Metallica are essentially the biggest metal band still producing material (albeit infrequently); the late Pickerell was a guiding force for a multitude of distilleries, including Maker’s Mark and Whistlepig. So what happened when these iconic forces combined to release a whiskey? The answer might just surprise you.
First things first, what exactly is Blackened American Whiskey? The base starts with a bourbon-dominant blend of NAS straight bourbon and straight rye whiskeys. This blend is then finished in black brandy casks for 2-10 weeks, followed by a “Black Noise” process where a playlist of Metallica songs is blasted at the casks. Each batch has an accompanying playlist that you can look up and see what songs helped curate your own bottle. The idea was inspired by Pickerell’s fascination with the effect of sound, such as how “an organ can play a note that shakes an entire building.” Gimmicky? Absolutely. But what about the whiskey?
Nose: Mellow. Jam upfront with a touch of warm, burnt toffee. Corn and rye grains quickly jump to the front. Begins to smell rice-like with vague lemon and cream.
Palate: Soft and slightly buttery, like flan or hot buttered rum. Bit of a berry medley component. Light base otherwise with fleeting vanilla and caramel notes.
Finish: Surprising length, given the proof and light nature. Mild pepper and effervescence with a bit more butter and toffee. Fermented grape essence.
Celebrity-sponsored whiskeys are a dime a dozen. Marketing will often see these become a financial success simply through the power of association. Critical reception is often more modest, however, with the biggest hits being “pretty good” and the stinkers considered both overpriced and forgettable. I’m happy to report that, at the very least, Blackened leans closer to the former.
My biggest concern going in was the likely youth of the product, given its finishing process and lack of source details. And although the whiskey is light, both in barrel influence and overall profile, the use of black brandy casks has aided the final product in a way that feels well and properly implemented. I’m generally iffy with finishes, particularly rum and brandy, so my hopes for Blackened followed suit. Turns out lightly finishing a bourbon/rye blend in black brandy casks is a winning formula. The buttery, flan-like profile is welcome and noticeable without feeling heavy-handed, resulting in a drinking experience that’s far more enjoyable than I would’ve expected. It’s not complex, but it gives me enough to be happy and off-handedly utter the words “this is quite nice.”
Know what else I’m surprised to report? The agreeable price. Blackened’s SRP is right around $40, but some local stores have it for less. Between that, the production process, the advertising, and my overall enjoyment, I’m ready to make this a gift for my fellow Metallica fans this holiday season. I see Blackened as a new shoo-in for likely crowd-pleasing whiskeys thanks to its branding and agreeable profile. And as much as I enjoy more elevated pours, there will always be room for something like this: A fun story and easily enjoyable dram.