Robert Trujillo on Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey

From left to right; Lars Ulrich; James Hetfield; Dave Pickerell; Kirk Hammett; and Robert Trujillo / Photo courtesy of Sweet Amber Distilling Company

When iconic heavy metal band Metallica set out to make an American whiskey, they knew it had to be the real deal.

So the rockers teamed-up with renowned master distiller Dave Pickerell, who died suddenly in November, after this interview was conducted. He created a blend of whiskeys aged an average of seven years that was then moved into Spanish brandy casks and finished with “sonic enhancement,” custom playlists of Metallica’s music. The first batch, numbered 081 in tribute of the band’s formative year, utilized a playlist with song contributions from all of the bandmates. Subsequent batches were then created using individual band-member playlists.

Tracks were blasted at the barrels, and the low-frequency soundwaves caused the whiskey to interact with the wood in exciting new ways. The process has been trademarked as “Black Noise.”

The name of the whiskey, Blackened, is a reference to the lead track on the band’s seminal 1988 album …And Justice For All. Here, the band’s bassist, Robert Trujillo, talks about music, spirits and his own stint as the “Whiskey Warlord.”

Bassist Robert Trujillo of Metallica
Bassist Robert Trujillo of Metallica / Photo courtesy of Sweet Amber Distilling Company

Why did Metallica decide to do a whiskey?

When I was in Ozzy [Osbourne]’s band, I was deemed the “Whiskey Warlord.” It’s kind of interesting, here we are now celebrating Blackened Whiskey and collaborating with Dave Pickerell. I can honestly say that was my nickname for many years. It’s interesting how things come around.

For me, it seemed like a natural fit, and a great way to celebrate Metallica’s music, along with the whiskey and also most importantly, our fans.

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What does that mean, “Whiskey Warlord”?

Back in the day, I was a huge Crown Royal fan. It all started before that with Jack—Jack Daniel’s, Jack & Coke—when I was in Suicidal Tendencies. That was fun. When I started in Ozzy’s band, there was a theory that Crown Royal, it was a step up from the Jack, and if you drank it with ginger ale, you were really styling, because ginger ale was natural because of the ginger root. So therefore, you’d have less chance of a hangover. Crown was my thing. I rolled with that for a while.

“It’s quite possible that a lot of the great music that we experience today wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for whiskey. It’s the truth.”

How do you drink your whiskey these days?

Neat, I like maybe just an ice cube, and sip instead of just throw it down the gullet.

What’s the connection between whiskey and music?

Whiskey plays an important role in rock ’n’ roll. In all styles of music, as a whole, it’s always in there. Jazz musicians have had a definite relationship with this. You’ve got to be responsible, but at the same time, there is a lineage and a connection. It’s quite possible that a lot of the great music that we experience today wouldn’t exist if it weren’t for whiskey. It’s the truth.

Blackened Whiskey
Blackened Whiskey / Photo courtesy of Sweet Amber Distilling Company

What is it like working with Dave Pickerell?

Dave’s awesome. I’ve had the pleasure of hanging with him a bit. He’s been in LA recently. It’s been great to get to know him a little better and understand that Dave is very passionate about his connection to whiskey. As much as we’re passionate about music, he is about whiskey.

For Metallica to collaborate with somebody, we need to have that sincere, honest connection with someone who isn’t afraid to try different things, experiment. In our band, we try different things. We’ve made films, played with orchestras, we made an album with Lou Reed. We’ll go against the grain.

Check out Metallica’s whiskey playlists on Blackened Whiskey’s website.

Dave loves music, he plays the piano, he’s a musician, his kids are musicians. He gets it. Even how to shake it up in the barrels. He loves the low frequency, which he means he loves the bass and the drums. And to me, that’s a match made in heaven already, speaking for myself as a bass player. And he’s got this aura that exudes positivity. ‘Let’s go for it. Let’s try this.’ And even at the shows, I see him there. He’s hard to miss, he’s a big guy, he’s got this big smile. It’s like having Santa Claus at the gig. The real Santa Claus of whiskey is Dave Pickerell.

Tell us about developing the playlist.

Each band member chose a particular playlist. That gets interesting because you find out that each band member has a different idea about what best represents the whiskey and the process. For me, I went for a lot of instrumentals and bass-heavy stuff. In my mind, I imagined the molecules slam-dancing around in the barrels, and just, hey, tasting better. Just coming together. I always say I imagine the slam pit in the barrels. That’s what we have at the shows, there’s a slam pit here and there. That’s what I envisioned.

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Do you feel like the whiskey reflects the ethos of the band?

Definitely, there’s that spirit and celebration on all fronts. As a band, it’s important to know we are individuals. We have four different characters who celebrate life in different ways. We’re brothers, we come together [and] try to make people happy. But we couldn’t be more different. The fact that we can come together and experiment, take chances and enjoy life this way—it’s what makes any band great. It’s an important ingredient in what we do and who we are. Blackened is an extension of that. It brings us together, it creates a bond, it takes that family vibe. Families aren’t perfect, but you come together and make magic.

Published on February 5, 2019
Topics: Interviews