The following is a statement from WhistlePig on the passing of spirits, distillation and hospitality industry icon Dave Pickerell. Our thoughts and condolences go out to Dave's family and friends, his family at WhistlePig, and the industry. Dave leaves behind a massive legacy and a wealth of knowledge.
On behalf of WhistlePig, we are sad to announce that we lost a legend in the spirits industry yesterday. Dave Pickerell passed away on November 1st in San Francisco. Dave was a distilling legend, a bourbon & whiskey rock star and a teacher to all who loved whiskey. He was a luminary, and he is widely known as the nation’s preeminent distiller.
But to us, Dave was family. He joined the WhistlePig team in 2009 as Master Distiller, and he helped with the creation of our product and was a part of our brand fabric. His goal was to bring authentic rye whiskey back to the United States and create one of the world’s finest ryes. At a time when nobody thought you could make a great rye whiskey, Dave believed. He made it his life's work. He succeeded and has been credited for bringing attention back to rye whiskey in America. Dave was one of the preeminent figures in modern whiskey.
“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,” says Jeff Kozak, CEO of WhistlePig.
Dave was born in Fairborn, Ohio. He attended West Point on a football scholarship and earned a B.A. in Chemistry. He then earned a master’s degree in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. His experiments in aging and finishes are legendary. In 2010, he wrote a piece in Malt Advocate discussing his concepts of terroir in whiskey, various barrel aging methods, and other innovative whiskey techniques. He created the world’s first solera-aged bourbon among many, many other inventions in the spirits industry. His latest efforts were focused on changing the stigma about blended whiskey for the American
He brought those concepts to life as Master Distiller at Hillrock Estate Distillery. Throughout his long career, he worked with some of the biggest names in the business such as Diageo, Corsair and his latest project, BLACKENED, which was created in partnership with Pickerell, Metallica and Sweet Amber Distilling. The guys in Metallica frequently referred to him as a member of their band, which always made him smile and let out a chuckle.
Dave often told people “I’ve failed more times than you’ve tried.” And “I’m ok making mistakes, in my industry you drink your mistakes.” He was a true whiskey rock star. Saying we are going to miss him isn’t enough. We will continue to honor his memory and his journey here at WhistlePig with our Master Blender Pete Lynch and our team of distillers trained by Dave himself.
The Metallica family is stunned and in disbelief at the loss of our friend and partner, Dave Pickerell. 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. 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.
John Billelo, CEO, Sweet Amber Distiiling / BLACKENED Whiskey
We are so incredibly saddened to learn of Dave Pickerell’s passing. Dave was not only one of the most forward thinking and ground breaking distillers to ever walk the earth, he was also a great friend. He was kind soul with an unstoppable passion for his friends, family, and for the world of whiskey. He will be greatly missed as a friend and as a legendary member of the spirits industry family.
Cathy & Jeffrey Baker, Otto, Alex, William & The Hillrock Team
Dave was a true industry icon, with an amazing wealth of knowledge and a personality to match.
He has rightly been called the “Johnny Appleseed” of craft distilling and has changed the face of spirits and touched the lives of many. Over the past eight years we developed a deep friendship working together to build Hillrock Estate Distillery, from the idea of creating a world class “field-to-glass” whiskey distillery on or farm in the Hudson Valley to an exciting reality.
We appreciate all his help and guidance and will miss him dearly. It is with great sadness that we give our condolences to Dave’s family and friends for their loss. I hope they can take some small comfort knowing that his legacy will certainly live on at Hillrock.
Danielle Eddy, Friend & Colleague
There is only ONE Dave Pickerell. A modest man who had an immense talent for creating great things – be it distilleries, whiskeys, or relationships – he was larger than life. His family were his friends, and friends were his family. As a Master Distiller he was a true story teller. In the end, I believe his legacy will be his greatest story.
Frank Coleman, SVP, Distilled Spirits Council
Dave Pickerell was a true icon in the distilling world, and an innovator and mentor to so many. With Bill Samuels at Maker's Mark, Dave helped launch the premiumization 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.