BLACKENED x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye
BLACKENED x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye Michael Persico

Metallica Launches Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye, a Riff on a Kentucky Classic

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 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.

Michael Persico

What’s so special about Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye

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.

(Left) Bottle of Blackened American Whiskey, a collaboration between metal masters Metallica and late master distiller Dave Pickerell. (Right) Metallica drummer Lars Ulrich signals for a Blackened encore.

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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.

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While the whiskey is resting in the finishing casks, Metallica’s music is played throughout the warehouse. The low hertz frequencies of the songs cause vibrations in the barrels, promoting higher interaction between wood and spirit, catalyzing molecular reactions, and creating more flavors in the final whiskey. The madeira casks add fruit, honey, and caramel notes to the rye, since they formerly held a fortified wine. Adding to the complexity is the fact that Blackened x Willett is bottled at barrel proof, 54.8 percent ABV.

Collage of Metallica singers, Dave Pickerell, Drew Kulsveen, and Rob Dietrich
Collage of Metallica, Dave Pickerell, Drew Kulsveen, and Rob Dietrich Courtesy Image
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Each bottle of Blackened includes a batch code, which, on the brand website, reveals the exact playlist the whiskey was exposed to; in the case of Blackened x Willett rye, the list was selected by Dietrich and Kulsveen and sequenced by Metallica drummer and co-founder Lars Ulrich. Check out the full list below, available on Spotify, Apple Music, and

The Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye Playlist

  1. For Whom The Bell Tolls
  2. Master of Puppets
  3. King Nothing
  4. Welcome Home (Sanitarium)
  5. Dyers Eve (Remastered)
  6. Broken, Beat & Scarred
  7. The Thing That Should Not Be
  8. Atlas, Rise!
  9. Of Wolf and Man
  10. One (Remastered)
  11. Enter Sandman

Blackened x Willett Kentucky Straight Rye is priced at $140, and available nationwide, though in limited quantities—so grab it if you see it.

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