Monday, May 15, 2023

Head-to-Head Tasting and Reviews of BLACKENED Flagship and Cask Strength Whiskeys


These days, brands develop a schtick as they enter the Wonderful World of Whiskey. The goal is to make enough noise and garner the attention of whiskey drinkers in an already very crowded marketplace.


On August 30, 2018, Dave Pickerell was on tour in Wisconsin, discussing his newest project, BLACKENED. I was there to meet with him. Little did I know that just two short months later, Dave would pass away. But we had a chance to chat about BLACKENED and whiskey stuff in general. He was a fountain of information and one of the friendliest guys I’ve met.

BLACKENED is unlike any project Dave spearheaded before. Firstly, it was a collaboration of spirits and music, namely, the infamous band Metallica. Secondly, Dave blended straight Bourbon and American Rye whiskeys and finished the concoction in black Brandy barrels. The schtick part involved blasting heavy metal music at the barrels while they aged. Whose music? If you didn’t guess Metallica, you’re wrong.


BLACKENED’s theory is that the sound vibrations cause more significant interaction with the wood, thus imparting additional flavor to the whiskey inside. I’m not a scientist, nor do I play one on television. Yet, in my mind, it makes sense: Toss a pebble in a still pool of water; you can easily see the water ripple and interact with its boundary. BLACKENED has dubbed this sonic-enhancement process BLACK NOISETM.  


With Dave’s passing, the torch was passed to Rob Dietrich, who became BLACKENDED’s Master Distiller and Blender.


Today I’m exploring two of BLACKENED’s expressions: the flagship and a cask strength called Volume 01. The flagship I picked up at a random liquor store (I say random because I don’t recall where I purchased it). Volume 01 was generously provided to me by its producer, Sweet Amber Distilling Co., in exchange for a no-strings-attached, honest review. I’ve opted to perform a side-by-side #DrinkCurious adventure and report their similarities and differences. For the record, I’ve poured both into Glencairn glasses and served them neat.


We’ll try the flagship whiskey first. It carries no age statement, no disclosure of a mashbill, and a 750ml package is sold at 45% ABV (90°) for around $49.00. I’ve seen it readily available at various liquor stores around the country.

Appearance: In my glass, the flagship expression was a brilliant golden liquid. The slim rim formed sticky droplets that soon became wide tears.


Nose: The first smell was powdered cinnamon, slowly followed by apples, honey, and mint. When I drew the air through my lips, I encountered stewed peaches. 


Palate: The mouthfeel was thin, and I first tasted vanilla, oak, and allspice. At the midpoint, I found cinnamon, maple syrup, and plums. The back featured flavors of rye spice, black pepper, and clove.


Finish: Long and peppery with oak tannins, the finish included flavors of cinnamon and rye spice. It was a building sensation, with a muted start that warmed almost exponentially. It didn’t get hot or present any burn. Instead, it just made itself known.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: BLACKENED’s flagship drinks like whiskey that is geared toward non-whiskey drinkers. On the surface, I know that isn’t very clear. However, it takes qualities that newcomers may find offputting and makes them more palatable. A 90° whiskey could be too “hot” for some. BLACKENED cools that with sweeter flavors. The same could be said of the wood notes.


Whiskey enthusiasts can partake in this pour and get enough out of it to keep things interesting. Metallica fans, naturally drawn to anything the band does, may find this a pleasant introduction to whiskey. It is priced right, and I believe it deserves a Bottle rating.


Now it is time for the cask strength expression. A 750ml sells for about $70.00. Volume 01 weighs a hefty 61.4% ABV (122.8°). It has been released to both USA and Canadian retailers.


Appearance: The liquid inside my glass was a bronzish color. A medium rim released quick, thicker tears.


Nose: A heavy aroma of maple syrup and molasses permeated my nostrils. Vanilla, Fig Newtons, and cinnamon were next. Inside my mouth, the air consisted of mocha.


Palate: While the flagship had a thin texture, the cask strength was far heavier and not just in warmth. It carried a creamy weightiness. I tasted oak, cinnamon, and walnuts. Midway through, I found oatmeal cookies, caramel, and cherries. The back suggested rye spice, black pepper, and a kiss of vanilla.


Finish: Strangely, I didn’t find the finish to be longer or more potent than the flagship expression. So much for preconceived notions! It was long-lasting but more level as well. Oak, cinnamon powder, oatmeal, and molasses remained.


Bottle, Bar, or Bust: Whereas the flagship would appeal to whiskey-curious folks, the cask strength version is more of an aficionado's playground. The flavors were bolder yet lacked the punch many 120°+ whiskeys might provide. It was a pleasant sipping experience on a cold, rainy day. There’s nothing extraordinary about the price, and this pour has quite a bit of value. Would I spend $70.00 on it? Yes. And because of that, my Bottle rating is more than fair. Cheers!


My Simple, Easy-to-Understand Rating System

  • Bottle = Buy It
  • Bar = Try It
  • Bust = Leave It


Whiskeyfellow encourages you to enjoy your whiskey as you see fit but begs you do so responsibly.


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