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Industry mourns loss of WhistlePig’s Dave Pickerell

American whiskey innovator and WhistlePig master distiller Dave Pickerell died in San Francisco last week.

Dave Pickerell was a much-loved and respected pioneer in the American whiskey community

Pickerell, a key figure in the American distilling industry, passed away on 1 November.

Pickerell was master distiller for Maker’s Mark for 14 years until 2008, when he set up his own consultancy firm, Oak View, to work with the burgeoning craft distilling sector.

In 2009, he helped found single-estate Vermont distillery WhistlePig, where he also worked as master distiller, focusing on the production of rye whiskey.

Jeff Kozak, CEO of WhistlePig, said: “Dave was a veteran, a patriot, a storyteller par excellence and a visionary. We had a lot of fun, too, whether it was talking life, family and whiskey as we sipped Boss Hog on a frosty winter’s evening around the bonfire behind the guest house, or Dave belting out Billy Joel’s Piano Man during a karaoke session at the all-company retreat, or all of us having a laugh at one of Dave’s many appearances in costume to promote our latest releases.

“Who can ever forget Dave, in a skin-tight Zorro costume, leaping out at the League of the Flying Pig Party proclaiming, ‘Behold!  The Black Prince has arrived!’ Dave will be remembered by the world and by history as the Johnny Appleseed of the craft whiskey movement. I will remember him, above all, as my friend. We will all miss him dearly.”

‘Mentor and friend’

Earlier this year, Pickerell and heavy metal rock band Metallica launched Blackened, a ‘sonic-aged’ American whiskey that has been exposed to “low hertz sound waves” during its maturation process.

The band said that Pickerell was not only a “mentor and friend”, but also considered 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,” Metallica said in a statement.

“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.”

Pickerell was a key proponent of experimentation in the industry and in his own work explored the concept of terroir in American whiskey and barrel finishing – creating the world’s first solera-aged Bourbon. Most recently, his efforts were focused on changing the stigma behind blended American whiskey.

“Dave Pickerell was a true icon in the distilling world, and an innovator and mentor to so many,” said Frank Coleman, senior vice president of the Distilled Spirits Council.

“With Bill Samuels at Maker’s Mark, Dave helped launch the premiumisation of Bourbon, a trend that has swept around the globe. He was a leader of the original team of distillers involved in the restoration of George Washington’s Distillery and the recreation of the first rye whiskey at the site in 200 years.

“That effort in the early 2000s sparked the revival and subsequent boom in rye whiskey that followed. And, through his teaching, consulting and friendship, he was a founding father of the craft distilling movement that is exploding in the United States.”

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