The history of Blackened has been short and bittersweet so far. In 2018, Metallica teamed up with the legendary Dave Pickerell for the concept of a new whiskey company that would focus on the creative process of how to blend together the world of music and whiskey making.
The collaboration would see Dave sourcing bourbon and rye whiskey (rumored to be from MGP and Alberta Distillery) to create a unique whiskey blend.
Metallica’s members wanted their music to be incorporated somehow and they landed on a process called “Black Noise” whereby they would aim subwoofers that were specially designed to introduce as much frequency vibration as possible to a group of barrels.
But they needed a medium to combine these two ideas. It was ultimately decided that the whiskey would be combined and put into “black” Brandy barrels in an attempt to have the vibration of the music create interaction between the brandy-soaked wood and the whiskey.
Blackened American Whiskey
Whether or not the music really does anything to the whiskey is up for debate but Blackened American Whiskey was a success. Reviewers generally enjoyed it and found the subtle brandy influence helped to amplify the profile of the whiskey.
Sadly, Dave Pickerell passed away soon after it was released in 2018. The positive reception of Blackened led to the brand releasing a cask strength version of this product in early 2021 that was also well received. But nobody could foreshadow the release that would come in the fall of 2021.
When the name “Willett” showed up next to “Blackened” in the same press release, few knew what that exactly meant. Some speculated that Blackened American Whiskey was going to be finished in used Willett barrels.
But when it was revealed that the whiskey that was going to be used was entirely Willett Straight Rye Whiskey aged anywhere from 4 to 8 years, enthusiasts lost their minds.
Willett’s rye whiskey has been widely coveted by the whiskey community ever since the release of their 4 year old Willett Family Estate bottling came out a few years ago. The older single barrels are even better, but harder to find.
Willett has two rye whiskey mashbills that either use a small amount of rye (51% rye, 34% corn, 15% malted barley) or a high amount of rye (74% rye, 11% corn and 15% malted barley).
Blackened x Willett Cask Strength Rye Whiskey, as it was to be called, would combine both of these mashbills and then put them into Madeira wine casks before subjecting them to the Black Noise treatment. Luckily for us, they also decided to bottle it at cask strength which came out to be 109.8 proof.
As a side note, many fans of Willett’s single barrel rye whiskey noticed that they had largely dried up for the last 2 years with no explanation.
Now that this product has dropped, it is assumed that Willett had reserved a large amount of their rye whiskey barrels for this project and that they were not able to release as many single barrels as they used to.
Here’s to hoping that this release means that single barrels can return to their normal levels. So how does this collaboration taste? Let’s find out. I sampled this neat in a glencairn.
Notes of lemon cough drops, dryer sheets, fresh mint leaves, oregano and dill all combine to highlight the rye whiskey within. The sweetness is perfectly balanced with aromas of toffee and molasses.
Palate: Sweet and sticky flavors complement peppery and fruity notes to create a whiskey that has it all. Guava, papaya and honeycomb all combine for an almost tropical-like drink.
The fruit doesn’t stop there as apricot jelly, grape juice and cherries also reward your tongue with each sip. After-dinner mints couple with cinnamon and oak to help eek some of the aged whiskey traits out that you can tell were lurking. A thought hits me midway through this dram: I’ve tasted all of this before, but in what? Barrell Seagrass!
Finish: The spices get a bit dryer while the dry red wine notes become dominant. The pervasive floral and herbal nature of the rye really compliment those wine notes well, showing you that the rye whiskey is far from covered up.
Cinnamon spice and a bit of clove and anise remain to add another layer of complexity. The finish lasts a long time.
How did I not see this coming before I took my first drink? It was so obvious. Blackened x Willett is about as close to Barrell Seagrass as you can get.
And while Willett snobs, Lars Ulrich and Even Kulsveen are probably grabbing their torches and pitchforks and coming after me for saying that, it’s honestly not a bad thing to be compared to.
The rye whiskey blend in Barrell Seagrass does a great Willett rye whiskey impression by using rye whisk(e)y from Canada, Kentucky and Indiana in it. They both lean more towards a grassy/herbal/botanical profile too. Obviously, they both have been finished in Madeira wine casks, but Barrell Seagrass takes it one step further by also finishing theirs in rum and Apricot Brandy barrels.
What is strange is that I kind of do get some apricot notes (and even some tropical rum notes like guava and papaya!) from the Blackened x Willett bottle even though there were no rum or apricot brandy barrel influence. Strange!
Unfortunately, it took me $150 to find a bottle just to determine how similar these both are. Are these finished rye whiskies fantastic? Yes, absolutely.
But was it worth the time, effort and additional $60 to hunt down a bottle of the Blackened x Willett when I could have gone to Total Wine and found a bottle of Barrell Seagrass already on the shelves? That’s a decision you’re going to have to decide for yourself.
But my comparison is likely not going to deter anyone from seeking out this bottle because Willett is so hot right now. Everyone wants it because of the name. And they do make fantastic rye whiskey!
In fact, I think that out of all the different whiskey mashbills they produce right now, their rye whiskey(s) are probably the best distillate coming off of their stills. With that being said, this will be a bottle that will sell out instantly everywhere it gets put out because of the name recognition it has.
There is one clear winner here out of all the hype and that’s the Blackened Whiskey brand. The collaboration with other distilleries won’t stop with this release and putting out the Willett bottle first will only attract more fans to it for future releases.
It was a smart move that even has me interested to see what they roll out with next. Let’s just hope they’re all as good as this one!
1 | Disgusting | Drain pour (Example: Jeffers Creek)
2 | Poor | Forced myself to drink it
3 | Bad | Flawed (AD Laws 4 Grain BiB, Clyde Mays anything)
4 | Sub-par | Many things I’d rather have (Tincup 10 year)
5 | Good | Good, solid, ordinary (Larceny, Sazerac Rye)
6 | Very Good | Better than average (Buffalo Trace, OGD BiB)
7 | Great | Well above average (Old Ezra Barrel Proof, Old Weller Antique)
8 | Excellent | Exceptional (Michter’s Barrel Proof Rye, Four Roses Barrel Strength)
9 | Incredible | Extraordinary (GTS, 13 Year MGP or Canadian Rye)
10 | Insurpassable | Nothing Else Comes Close (William Larue Weller)
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