Gael Fashingbauer Cooper
November 3, 2018
Dave Pickerell, who has been called the “Johnny Appleseed of American Whiskey,” died on Nov. 1 in San Francisco. According to WhiskeyCast, he was 70. Pickerell was “a friend, father, and luminary to the world of whiskey,” Vermont’s WhistlePig Whiskey, where Pickerell served as master distiller, said on its website. “Our heavy hearts and raised glasses are with the entire Pickerell family as we all mourn the loss of a legend.”
The big names of the whiskey industry were quick to remember Pickerell.
“We are deeply saddened to learn of Dave Pickerell’s passing,” said representatives for Virginia’s Ragged Branch Distillery, where Pickerell also served as master distiller. “We will miss his passion for the craft and his larger-than-life personality but are incredibly grateful for the time we had with him and the firsthand knowledge he passed on to us to be able to produce the finest, most authentic Virginia straight bourbon possible.”
A 2014 Garden & Gun magazine profile gave Pickerell the “Johnny Appleseed of whiskey” nickname, and traced his lively life and career. Born in Ohio, he attended West Point on a football scholarship and earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville.
He served for 14 years as the master distiller at Kentucky’s Maker’s Mark, before leaving in 2008 to consult for the craft-distilling industry. He worked with numerous businesses, including George Washington’s distillery at the first president’s home of Mount Vernon, and even had a tattoo of George Washington’s rye on his arm. To Pickerell, it spoke of the importance of whiskey to the history of America.
Dave Pickerell was the master distiller for Ragged Branch Distillery in Charlottesville, Virginia, and also worked with numerous other distilleries.
“When they threw the tea into Boston Harbor, it wasn’t just throwing tea, it was throwing the British way of life, and that included rum, which had been the colonial drink,” Pickerell told Garden & Gun. “That didn’t mean (early Americans) were going to quit drinking, it just meant they were going to switch to something made indigenously, and that was rye whiskey. And George Washington was one of the biggest rye whiskey makers of his era.”
Pickerell also served as the distiller for heavy-metal band Metallica’s new whiskey, Blackened. According to the Daily Beast, Lars Ulrich, the band’s drummer, thought highly of Pickerell.
“When Dave was presented to us as a potential collaborator, it felt like he was sort of, it may sound cheesy, but the Metallica of that particular world,” The Daily Beast quoted Ulrich as saying.
“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. But more than anything, Dave was our good friend and we will miss him tremendously. … We enjoyed every minute of our collaboration on our Blackened Whiskey with him.”
And Pickerell loved his work. Of his happiness at the launch of Blackened, he told Forbes, “I have sunshine coming out of my ears.”