Legendary Distiller Dave Pickerell died from unknown causes on Thursday (11.01) night in San Francisco. Pickerell’s influence on American whiskey is immeasurable, but there is no doubt that he was at the vanguard of the Whiskey Revolution.
Bourbon Pursuit labeled Pickerell “The Man Behind 100 Distilleries.” He was a key figure in popularizing quality bourbon, revitalizing rye whiskey in America, shining a light on the importance of terroir in the sector, and recently, pushing awareness of blended whiskey. America. “Dave Pickerell was a true icon in the distilling world, and an innovator and mentor to so many,” recalled Frank Coleman, SVP, Distilled Spirits Council. “With Bill Samuels at Maker’s Mark, Dave helped launch the premiumization of Bourbon, a trend that has swept around the globe.”
For 14 years, Pickerell served as the Master Distiller at Maker’s. In 2009, he helped create craft pioneer Whistle Pig where he also held the mantle of Master Distiller. “To us, Dave was family. He was larger than life and truly part of the WhistlePig fabric,” lamented Whistle Pig CEO Jeff Kozak. “Working with him never felt like work. It was his passion, humor and storytelling that helped this brand come alive.”
Other notable works included Hillrock Estate Distillery, Corsair, a distillery at George Washington’s Mount Vernon, and Blackened. The latter expression was a collaboration with Sweet Amber Distilling and Metallica.
“He [Pickerell] 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,” said the band in a statement. “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.”
Make no mistake, behind Pickerell’s kind persona and countless bonafides were a lifetime of hard work and study. In fact, he often quipped, “I’ve failed more times than you’ve tried.”
After a childhood in Fairborn, Ohio, the future-distiller attended West Point on a football scholarship and graduated with a B.A. in Chemistry. He then attended the University of Louisville where he earned a MS in chemical engineering from the University of Louisville. That chemistry background allowed him to experiment and elevate distilling to the levels that we now consider standard.
Perhaps, Pickerell’s life is best summed up by his friend and collaborator on several projects, Danielle Eddy. “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,” she wrote. “As a Master Distiller he was a true story teller. In the end, I believe his legacy will be his greatest story.”