Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey just released a new bottle as part of its Masters of Whiskey series, and it might be the best yet from the brand. The nature of the collaboration is laid out in its extremely long name—Blackened x Rabbit Hole Blend of Straight Bourbon Whiskeys Distilled in Tennessee & Kentucky Finished in Calvados Casks—but a little explanation might help here.
In early August, I went to see Metallica play at MetLife Stadium in New Jersey, and I realized at this point in their career these guys are technicians—they play songs from their deep catalogue with precision and near automation having done this a billion times for about 40 years, but the heart is still there. The same can be said for the folks behind the whiskey, although maybe on a micro scale. The late Dave Pickerell was instrumental in creating the brand with the band, and he built his career working with many different whiskey projects including WhistlePig, Hillrock Estate, and Garrison Brothers. The Blackened master distiller and blender is now Rob Dietrich, who got his start and built his reputation at Stranahan’s in Colorado making single malt whiskey. And his collaborator is Kaveh Zamanian, the Bourbon Hall of Fame whiskey maker and founder of Rabbit Hole Distillery in Louisville.
Dietrich and Zamanian selected two whiskeys to blend together for this release: 13-year-old straight Tennessee bourbon with a mashbill of 64 percent corn and 36 percent rye, and Rabbit Hole Heigold High Rye Double Malt Kentucky straight bourbon, with a mashbill of 70 percent corn, 25 percent malted rye, and five percent malted barley. Normally, Blackened is a blend of bourbon and rye that is finished in brandy barrels which are subjected to its trademarked Black Noise, where low-hertz sound waves blast the barrels to increase interaction between the wood and the whiskey inside (and often these sound waves are the dulcet tones of Metallica albums like Master of Puppets).
The new Masters of Whiskey blend, however, was finished in calvados casks, a type of French apple brandy. And it too was pummeled with Black Noise, a process the brand swears by although others might view it as more of a gimmick akin to Jefferson’s sending its whiskey on ocean voyages. Whether it’s the heavy metal, the whiskeys picked for this blend, the specific casks used to finish it, or all of the above, this is a tasty whiskey. There’s a nice balance of sweet and spice on the palate, although maybe it leans a bit heavily on the sweet side (this is not always a bad thing). There are black pepper and cinnamon notes wrapped inside juicy fruit and apple, with a nice splash of heat on finish. That’s thanks to the whiskey being bottled at cask strength of 106.59 proof, which is high but not too high. The fact that it’s non-chill filtered goes a long way here as well.
As I’ve written about more than once before, cask finishes are a ubiquitous trend in whiskey these days and they can go very wrong (ahem, amburana) or be artfully done. This new whiskey, thankfully, leans towards the latter category. And even if you weren’t much of a Blackened fan before, or Metallica, this bottle is worth trying, particularly if you’re a rye whiskey drinker.