Tasting Notes: Blackened X Willett Rye Madeira Finish

Blackened American Whiskey is an interesting concept to say the least. It was born as a collaboration between famed Master Distiller and Blender, Dave Pickerell, and the one and only Metallica. Early on, Dave Pickerell selected bourbon and rye whiskey that was to be blended and then finished in Black Brandy casks. We all know Dave Pickerell was a talented whiskey producer and blender, so this is a pretty solid start! Rob Dietrich has taken the reigns and is now responsible for sourcing and blending all of the whiskey.

After the whiskeys are blended for finishing, they are aged for an additional period to the unmistakable sound of Metallica. The finishing barrels are subjected to the company’s proprietary “Black Noise” sonic-enhancement process, whereby the whiskey is pummeled by low-hertz soundwaves which the company claims “forces the whiskey deeper into the wood of the barrel.” You can read more about the history of the company and their concept here:

I think we can all agree that this is a cool concept, but does it work? Decide for yourself. Personally, I have never been convinced. However, when I heard Blackened was partnering with Willett to produce a finished rye in the 6-year range, my interest piqued.

This bottle is the first in Blackened’s “Masters of Whiskey” series and is a marriage of high rye and low rye recipes from barrels from the Willet Family Estate Collection that were hand selected by Rob Dietrich and Drew Kulsveen. The whiskies are then finished in Madeira casks for up to 14 weeks utilizing the same Black Noise process. There is no age statement on the bottle, but the company’s original press release notes the blend contains whiskey up to 8 years old, with an average age of 6.5 years. The whiskey is then bottled at barrel proof (109.6) with a suggested retail price of $140.


Appearance – Deep copper.

Nose – Up front this whiskey presents a marriage of traditional Willett rye (typically consisting of a mix of hay, dill, mint, and cinnamon) with more prominent sweet notes of fig preserves and tobacco. The sweetness begins to brighten, revealing more notes of red berries and a hint of citrus. I also found a faint note of black licorice on the back end.

Palate – The Madeira finishing is prominent up front, as this whiskey initially presents with a somewhat astringent mouthfeel with notes of red grape. Rich notes of red berries, tobacco, and dark chocolate chocolate also make an appearance. Despite the initial sweetness, the Willett rye spice starts to develop mid-palate. The spice intensifies quickly and consists primarily of cinnamon, anise, and some black pepper.

Finish – The fig sweetness is prominent, but that Willett rye spice does linger pleasantly mid-palate. Oak plays more of a role on the finish with some tannins present, but the oak is still very subtle and adds just a touch of smoke.

Overall – I have a lot to say about this whiskey. First, I think the underlying rye is consistent with the quality I typically expect from an aged Willett rye. The profile is unique and complex, and the proof is perfect. I would be happy to sip that base whiskey any day. I also think the finishing here is done right (if that is possible), at least when you compare it to what some distilleries are doing in terms of identifying complimentary flavors and in finishing time. The Madeira finishing adds some additional character and nuance to this rye that provides a fun challenge.

The finishing on this product is more subtle than many of the finished products I’ve tasted. Nonetheless, I still think the finishing is a little heavy and I am not convinced that the process actually elevates the underlying whiskey. At times, the Madeira finish did compliment the flavors of this whiskey, but that initial astringency and the sweet notes throughout the sip overpowered some of the additional flavor and character that I know a Willett rye can deliver. At times, I also started to forget that I was drinking a rye whiskey and that is always going to be a problem for me as a more traditional whiskey drinker. Like I said, this whiskey presents a fun challenge, but I’m not sure its one that I will come back to, especially when it comes with a $140 price tag.

As always, try this whiskey for yourself and let me know what you think. Cheers y’all!

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1 thought on “Tasting Notes: Blackened X Willett Rye Madeira Finish

  1. Three thoughts …

    One: I love the way you deconstruct the various flavors you find in a pour.
    Two: I agree that most finished bottles fail. Most. Not all. It’s such a fine line and one you can’t cross over.
    Three: congratulations. You need to edit your bio to include your new son. Not sure about the dogs.

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