American whiskey icon Dave Pickerell dies

Heavy metal band Metallica were among the first to pay tribute to WhistlePig’s master distiller Dave Pickerell, who died in San Francisco last week.

Distiller Dave Pickerell (centre) with Metallica, who he made whiskey with

One of the best-known and most loved distillers in the US, Pickerell, who spent 14 years as master distiller at Maker’s Mark, passed away on 1 November.

“The Metallica family is stunned at the loss of our friend and partner, Dave Pickerell. 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,” a statement from the band read.

“In his passion for his craft, we found a truly kindred soul – Dave lived to see people enjoy what he created, and we enjoyed every minute of our collaboration on our Blackened Whiskey with him,” it added.

Whiskey icon Dave Pickerell died in San Francisco last week

Pickerell left Maker’s Mark in 2008 to become a consultant for the craft distilling movement. A year later he was appointed master distiller at WhistlePig, a single estate farm distillery in Vermont.

His goal was to bring authentic rye back to the US and create one of the world’s finest expressions. During his time at WhistlePig, Pickerell championed quality rye and helped bring it back under the spotlight.

Frank Coleman of the Distilled Spirits Council described Pickerell as: “a founding father of the craft distilling movement in the US”.

Pickerell was also keen to highlight the importance of terroir in whisky, and the effect it has on flavour. He is credited for creating the world’s first solera-aged Bourbon.

“To us, Dave was family. He was larger than life and part of the WhistlePig fabric. Working with him never felt like work. It was his passion, humour and storytelling that helped this brand come alive.

“Saying we are going to miss him isn’t enough, and we will continue to honour his memory and keep him in our stories and our hearts,” said WhistlePig’s CEO, Jeff Kozak.

Pickerell’s most recent efforts were focused on changing the stigma about blended American whiskey.

During his career, he partnered with heavy metal band Metallica on a project called ‘Blackened’ in collaboration with Sweet Amber Distilling.

“Dave was not only one of the most forward thinking and ground breaking distillers to ever walk the earth, he was also a great friend.

“He was kind soul with an unstoppable passion for the world of whiskey. He will be greatly missed as a friend and as a legendary member of the spirits industry family,” said John Billelo, CEO of Sweet Amber Distiiling.

Prior to his distilling career, Ohio-born Pickerell attended West Point on a football scholarship and earned a BA in Chemistry. He went on to attain a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville.

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