The whiskey world mourns today after news that the prodigious, influential distiller Dave Pickerell has passed away.
For 14 years Pickerell served as master distiller at Maker’s Mark. He left the company in 2008 to become a consultant during the craft spirits boom, and a year later joined WhistlePig as master distiller.
“Dave was a veteran, a patriot, a storyteller par excellence, and a visionary,” says Jeff Kozak, CEO of WhistlePig. “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.”
A distiller with a wide range of talents and interests, Pickerell’s other current projects included Hillrock Distillery in New York, the distillery on George Washington’s historical plantation in Virginia, and Blackened, a brand he co-created in partnership with Sweet Amber Distilling and the rock band Metallica. He also worked with Corsair.
“Dave Pickerell was a true icon in the distilling world, and an innovator and mentor to so many,” says Frank Coleman, SVP, the 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. 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.”
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. Dave often told people, “I’ve failed more times than you’ve tried.” Another of his common sayings was, “I’m ok making mistakes, in my industry you drink your mistakes.”
Pickerell was reportedly in San Francisco for the city’s yearly WhiskeyFest when he died.
“We are so incredibly saddened to learn of Dave Pickerell’s passing,” says John Billelo, CEO of Sweet Amber Distilling. “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.”