Master Distiller Dave Pickerell Dies at 62

Dave Pickerell
Dave Pickerell / Photo courtesy Sweet Amber Distilling

Master Distiller Dave Pickerell died last Thursday in a San Francisco hotel where he was slated to attend a whiskey show. The cause of death was not disclosed. He was 62 years old.

Pickerell was best known for his work as master distiller for Maker’s Mark, as well as his role a consultant and teacher working with other craft distillers such as  Hillrock Estate Distillery and WhistlePig Rye Whiskey.

His most recent project was Blackened Whiskey, a collaboration with heavy metal band Metallica, along with Sweet Amber Distilling.

“The Metallica family is stunned and in disbelief at the loss of our friend and partner, Dave Pickerell,” the band said in a statement. “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.”

Dave Pickerell with his recent Metallica/Sweet Amber Distilling collaboration, Blackened Whiskey
Dave Pickerell with his recent Metallica/Sweet Amber Distilling collaboration, Blackened Whiskey / Photo courtesy Sweet Amber Distilling

Born in Fairborn, Ohio, Pickerell attended West Point on a football scholarship and earned an undergraduate degree in chemistry. He got his master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. He went on to become the master distiller at Maker’s Mark for 14 years, leaving in 2008 to become a consultant.

After leaving Maker’s Mark, Pickerell founded Oak View Spirits, where he consulted for more than 100 distilleries and served as the original master distiller for the restored George Washington’s Distillery at Mount Vernon in Virginia.

His best-known projects always centered around whiskey, including WhistlePig—a single-estate farm distillery in Vermont focusing on rye whiskey, and Hillrock Estate Distillery based in a small town about 70 miles northeast of West Point. It was there he specialized in Bourbons and American single malt whiskeys. “Our goal was to essentially be the American Speyside Scotch,” he told Wine Enthusiast during a recent podcast.

Pickerell was renowned for his passion and knowledge of whiskey and distilling.

“Dave Pickerell was a true icon in the distilling world, and an innovator and mentor to so many,” said Frank Coleman, SVP of the Distilled Spirits Council of the U.S. “Dave helped launch the premiumization of Bourbon, a trend that has swept around the globe….Through his teaching, consulting and friendship, he was a founding father of the craft distilling movement that is exploding in the United States.”

Pickerell is survived by his ex-wife, two daughters, two sons, and four grandchildren, as well as two sisters and a brother.

Published on November 6, 2018
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