Today rye whiskey, tomorrow the world? Metallica-backed whiskey brand Blackened is making its first foray into Kentucky with a new rye in collaboration with cult craft distillery Willett. Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye 11 combines the prowess of an established distiller with the innovative “sonic enhancement” technique that was pioneered by the late, great Dave Pickerell, one of the brand’s founding partners. The release is the first in Blackened’s new “Masters of Whiskey” series, which will feature collaborations with other distillers in the future. It’s also the first rye for the brand.
Pickerell was a friend of the Kulsveen family, which owns and operates Willett; he even lent expertise when they were starting to distill back in 2011. The partnership with Metallica came a few years later. When Blackened was launching in 2018, the Kulsveens welcomed Pickerell back to the distillery to shoot a promotional video, and later opened their doors to the band, giving them a behind-the-scenes tour, offering them dinner and sharing cigars.
What’s so special about Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye 11
Though Pickerell passed away in November 2018, his successor, former Stranahan’s master distiller Rob Dietrich, has continued the relationship, working with Willett master distiller Drew Kulsveen to craft this new release. Blackened x Willett marries two straight ryes—one with a high-rye-content mashbill, the other with a lower proportion of the grain—selected from Willett’s Family Estate barrels, ranging in age from 4 to 8 years old.
After marrying—blending the whiskeys together to form a balanced whole—the rye was then placed into madeira casks for a finish of up to 14 weeks. Like Blackened’s core American whiskey, which blends bourbon and rye from a number of states, this finish was undertaken using the brand’s proprietary Black Noise process. Pickerell developed the innovation specifically for Blackened.