Rest in Peace, Dave Pickerell


November 2, 2018

Longtime master distiller Dave Pickerell died yesterday in San Francisco.

I recently spent time with longtime master distiller Dave Pickerell at a Metallica concert covering his new whiskey with the band. He is the subject of a lengthy Bourbon+ feature hitting newsstands in December.

I am deeply saddened for the loss of all American whiskey. I believe Pickerell was one of the most-talented master distillers in the world. There wasn’t a grain he couldn’t turn into alcohol. He was also a friend, a fellow veteran and somebody I could ask anything about distilling. Just the other day, I was texting with him about distilling with buckwheat.

He was the the master distiller at Maker’s Mark for 14 years. He left in 2008 to become a consultant for the craft-distilling movement. In 2009, he helped create and was appointed Master Distiller at WhistlePig—a single estate farm distillery in Vermont. His  goal was to bring authentic rye whiskey back to the United States and create one of the world’s finest ryes. He succeeded and many people give Pickerell credit for bringing attention back to rye whiskey in America. Dave was one of the preeminent figures in modern whiskey. Throughout his long career, he worked with some of the biggest names in the business such as Hillrock, Corsair and his latest project….. BLACKENED which was created in partnership with Pickerell, Metallica and Sweet Amber Distilling. The guys in Metallica frequently referred to him as a member of their band, which always made him smile and let out a chuckle.

Dave was born in Fairborn, Ohio. He attended West Point on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in Chemistry. He then earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. HIs experiments in aging and finishes are legendary. He created the world’s first solera-aged bourbon among many, many other inventions in the spirits industry. His latest efforts were focused on changing the stigma about blended whiskey for the American Whiskey category. Dave often told people “I’ve failed more times than you’ve tried.” And “I’m ok making mistakes, in my industry you drink your mistakes.” He was a true whiskey rock star.

That moment with Pickerell and Metallica pulled me into a band photo. I’ll never forget spending time with Dave during our many events. He was a special distiller.

Below are a few words from the people that loved him, worked with him and knew him best:

Jeff Kozak  – CEO Whistle Pig
To us, Dave was family. He was larger than life and truly part of the WhistlePig fabric. Working with him never felt like work. It was his passion, humor and storytelling that helped this brand come alive. Saying we are going to miss him isn’t enough, and we will continue to honor his memory and keep him in our stories and our hearts.

Metallica Band
The Metallica family is stunned and in disbelief 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. 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.  And judging by the smile on his face whenever we were together, we think the feeling was mutual.

John Billelo, CEO, Sweet Amber Distiiling / BLACKENED Whiskey
We are so incredibly saddened to learn of Dave Pickerell’s passing. 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 his friends, family, and for the world of whiskey. He will be greatly missed as a friend and as a legendary member of the spirits industry family.

Cathy & Jeffrey Baker, Otto, Alex, William & The Hillrock Team

Dave was a true industry icon, with an amazing wealth of knowledge and a personality to match.
He has rightly been called the “Johnny Appleseed” of craft distilling and has changed the face of spirits and touched the lives of many. Over the past eight years we developed a deep friendship working together to build Hillrock Estate Distillery, from the idea of creating a world class “field-to-glass” whiskey distillery on or farm in the Hudson Valley to an exciting reality.
We appreciate all his help and guidance and will miss him dearly. It is with great sadness that we give our condolences to Dave’s family and friends for their loss. I hope they can take some small comfort knowing that his legacy will certainly live on at Hillrock.
Danielle Eddy – Friend & Colleague
There is only ONE Dave Pickerell. A modest man who had an immense talent for creating great things – be it distilleries, whiskeys, or relationships – he was larger than life. His family were his friends, and friends were his family. As a Master Distiller he was a true story teller. In the end, I believe his legacy will be his greatest story.