Thirty years ago this August, Metallica released their self-titled fifth album. Popularly known as the "Black Album" for its black-on-black color scheme, the record was phenomenally successful, ultimately selling over 17 million copies in the US alone on the strength of such iconic songs as "The Unforgiven," "Nothing Else Matters" and of course the mighty "Enter Sandman."
This month, to celebrate one of the bestselling albums in the last 30 years, Blackened American Whiskey is pairing the heavy-metal classic with a special new batch. Unveiled in 2018, Blackened began as a collaboration between Metallica and revered distiller Dave Pickerell of Sweet Amber Distilling. Pickerell employed his innovative BLACK NOISE™ process to hammer their special blend of whiskeys with low-frequency sound, transforming the molecular structure of the whiskey while enhancing and intensifying certain flavor notes and nuances. In the past, each batch of Blackened has been "finished" using specially curated playlists of Metallica music. But Batch 114 — created by Blackened Master Distiller and Blender Rob Dietrich, who stepped into the role following Pickerell's untimely death in November 2018 — was finished using the Black Album in its entirety.
The Black Album-enhanced whiskey is now available as part of Blackened's new Limited Edition Black Album Whiskey Pack, which includes a 750ml bottle of Batch 114 along with a collectable challenge coin and a Snakebyte Cocktail Booklet, the latter of which features exciting riffs on the classic whiskey-and-lime juice "Snake Bite" cocktail from several notable mixologists. We spoke with Dietrich about the new Whiskey Pack, Batch 114 and his own connection to Metallica's self-titled masterpiece.
ALL OF THE PREVIOUS BATCHES OF BLACKENED HAVE BEEN FINISHED USING CURATED PLAYLISTS OF METALLICA MUSIC — BUT BATCH 114 IS THE FIRST ONE FINISHED USING A SPECIFIC METALLICA STUDIO ALBUM.
Following the success of the special release of S&M2 Batch 106, the team got really excited to do another. We thought the much celebrated Black Album would be perfect.
DID SUBJECTING THE BATCH TO MUSIC WITH A SUSTAINED MOOD AND SOUND ENHANCE THE WHISKEY DIFFERENTLY THAN BLASTING IT WITH A MORE VARIED PLAYLIST?
It certainly produced a uniquely different result. We still have that same base quality, and the consistency is still there, but there's an added element. When I'm creating a whiskey, I will always taste the batch prior to it — what I call "the control" — and I'll make sure that the blend of the new batch is fairly similar. But then once you add the BLACK NOISE™ aspect, it creates a movement inside the barrels which actually enhances the whiskey's flavor, and those enhancements are uniquely shaped by the music.
As a whiskey maker, it's so intriguing to me that sound can have such an effect on it. I feel like we're just beginning to scratch the surface on what sonic enhancement can do. But I'm always working with the subtleties and nuances of the whiskey, and you really can try this batch against another batch and notice the differences. And I love that this album — one of the greatest Metallica albums, and certainly one of my favorites — shaped this whiskey.
DO YOU REMEMBER WHEN YOU FIRST HEARD THE BLACK ALBUM?
I believe I first heard it when I was in the army in 1992. I love music of all of all genres, but I just have a very distinct passion for metal. There's just something about music where you can really pound the dash to on your car while you're going down the road. [Laughs] I'd been a fan of all their other albums leading up to that, but I remember when I first saw the "Enter Sandman" video on MTV, I thought it was such an amazing video and song.
I know I saw it for the first time when I was in the army before we got deployed. We had cable in the barracks — actually, one guy had cable, and then we spliced off of that to everybody else's rooms. [Laughs] MTV had all these amazing videos at the time, and of course they were playing "Enter Sandman" all the time. We did several deployments in Somalia during the time I was in the army, and the Black Album really stood out as an "anthem" for us. It carried us through some pretty heavy times.
LISTENING TO THE ALBUM NOW, ARE THERE ANY SONGS FROM IT THAT ARE PARTICULARLY MEANINGFUL TO YOU?
"The Unforgiven" is just hands down one of my favorite songs. But you know, there are just so many epic songs on there. Some bands will come out with an album where there's one or two good songs, and everything else is filler. But there are no filler songs on the Black Album. To me, everything on there is epic, whether it's the ballads or the harder-hitting ones.
I'm turning 50 this year, and I still love a good mosh pit, but to me, what makes the Black Album so incredible is the songwriting. Listening to it even back then, you could just tell that they were evolving as musicians and as people, and that it was all coming out in their art. And I still think that's so impressive.
ARE THERE ANY PLANS AFOOT FOR OTHER BLACKENED BATCHES FINISHED WITH SPECIFIC METALLICA ALBUMS? IS THERE GOING TO BE A RIDE THE LIGHTNING BATCH, FOR INSTANCE?
You know, there's certainly always that possibility. We always leave the window open to be able to create something like that. Right now, we're working on some other things, but the future will tell!
THE BLACK ALBUM WHISKEY PACK COMES WITH A BOOKLET OF SNAKEBYTE RECIPES. WHICH ONE OF THOSE COCKTAILS IS YOUR FAVORITE?
I would say that my favorite is probably The Forked Tongue. Mexican food is my comfort food, and there's ancho chile liqueur in the recipe that gives it a bit of a spicy kick, and then there's a little bit of honey so you kind of get that sweet and savory thing. And then, of course, you have the Blackened Whiskey to tie it all together!
The other thing that I really love about the Whiskey Pack is the challenge coin that's in there. On one side, it's got the Metallica iconography, and the other side is our Blackened "B" logo. If you're a veteran, you know that a challenge coin is something that's given to you when you've accomplished some feat or you've been part of an exclusive unit or situation, and you receive it through a handshake.
That's actually how I found out I had the Blackened job — when I interviewed with the band, we talked about my time in the service, and at the end of the interview, James said, "Hey, I've got something for you." He reaches in his pocket, pulls something out of it and gives it to me with a handshake. I look at it, and it's a Metallica coin that says, "I Am Family." And James says, "Welcome to the family!" and gives me a big hug. That was such a cool moment, just getting the coin from him, and then I also realized at that moment that I had the job! [Laughs] So that was really cool ...
When I was running a distillery in Denver before I became the Master Distiller at Blackened, I would give tours to members of SEAL Team Six and SWAT teams, and they would give you a challenge coin in gratitude. So, by putting a Blackened Metallica challenge coin in The Whiskey Pack, it's our way of showing gratitude to the people who support our whiskey.