Review: Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey Brand Teamed With Willett on a Rye

Finished in Madeira casks, their Masters of Whiskey release is a fruitful collaboration

September 10, 2021 9:08 am
Master Distillers Rob Dietrich and Drew Kulsveen of Blackened and Willett, discussing their new collaboration
Master Distillers Rob Dietrich (Blackened) and Drew Kulsveen (Willett) and their new Masters of Whiskey collaboration
Michael Persico

What we’re drinking: Blackened x Willett Masters of Whiskey Series

Where it’s from: Blackened is a blended whiskey co-created by the late Dave Pickerell (an award-winning Master Distiller, known for his work at WhistlePig) and the band Metallica. Willett is a family-owned-and-operated distillery that’s garnered a rabid following among whiskey enthusiasts.

Dave Pickerell, Metallica, Rob Dietrich and Drew Kulsveen, the creative team behind the new Blackened whiskey release
The creative forces behind Blackened’s new release

Why we’re drinking this: The last time we saw Rob Dietrich, the current Master Distiller for Blackened, it was early March of 2020 and we got to hang out with some members of Metallica, drink whiskey and not realize that a day later, the world would basically stop.

Turns out that down time led to some new ideas for Dietrch. “I was home more than ever,” he tells InsideHook. “So I built a green room, a sun room that became my cigar-smoking room, got a lab in my house and started blending.”

He also decided to reach out to distilleries he liked to see about collaborations. “I’ve always been a fan of Willett Rye, and after meeting [Willett Master Distiller] Drew Kulsveen, it turned out we had similar interests and palates.”

As a reminder, all Blackened releases — including this limited-edition expression — undergo a process called “Black Noise.” Here, the whiskey is agitated and pummeled with curated playlists of Metallica’s music, a sonic enhancement process that seems to have scientific validity. Plus, as the band’s guitarist Kirk Hammett told me last spring, “The process totally makes sense to me. It’s moving molecules with sound.”

So the distillers jointly put together a playlist to agitate the juice. And they also utilized a not-so-common finishing process that reminded us of Dietrich’s time at Stranahan’s, a Colorado distillery that earned a lot of acclaim for its unusual secondary maturations … so much so that they had people lining up for a week to grab bottles. “I feel like this release is an extension of that,” says Dietrich.

A bottle of Blackened x Willett Masters of Whiskey
The Masters of Whiskey Series will be an annual limited-edition release with different collaborators

How it tastes: Blackened x Willett (109.6 proof) is a marriage of high-rye and low-rye recipes (of roughly 4-8 years) that have undergone an additional maturation of just under 14 weeks in Madeira casks. “I thought the earthiness and spiciness of the rye needed a balance with something sweet and old-world,” says Dietrich. 

Mission accomplished. This collaboration features a rich mouthfeel and a sweetness that nicely balances the spiciness of the ryes. It’s a complex but rather engaging mix that features, at different times, notes of tobacco, mint, cinnamon and raspberry. Overall, it’s juicy, spicy and even a bit tart, and it works wonderfully neat after a meal. (And while it wasn’t one of the songs used during the “Black Noise” process, I’d suggest that if this release were a Metallica song, it would be their cover of “Turn the Page.”)

Fun fact: While some of the members of Metallica do not drink (and they pretty much let Dietrich handle the whiskey portion of their collaboration), the band and the distiller have a tight relationship. “[Singer/guitarist] James Hetfield lives about an hour and a half away from me,” says Dietrich. “We enjoy cigars on his deck.” (And they were both huge fans of the recent cover of “Nothing Else Matters” by Miley Cyrus, Yo-Yo Ma and Elton John. “James played me the song through his phone, and he was so excited about it. He said, ‘My hair is standing up on my arms.’”)

Where to find it: The initial, limited-edition Masters of Whiskey release retails for about $140 — you can use the Blackened locator to find a bottle. Once it’s gone, it’s gone. 


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