By Rob Allanson

A great loss

Remembering those moments when you knew genius was before you
It just sits there now, and I am really not too sure what to do with it. I don’t feel like deleting it just yet, but then it is only a few words. The ‘it’ in question is the last contact I had with the revered master distiller, Dave Pickerell.

I had been chasing Dave after news came out that he had been working with the metal band Metallica to produce a whiskey for them. Now, if ever there had been a combination of celebrity and whiskey, this was going to be one of the best.

So I had dropped him a note on Facebook messenger; simple and, unlike a phone call, not likely to disturb him wherever in the world he was. As ever the response was quick. “Yes get in touch,” he wrote. That’s when our correspondent, Jim Leggett took over and he wrote the great piece for our sister title American Whiskey Magazine. Out of respect for Dave, we have reprinted it in this edition.

I had known Dave for pretty much as long as I have worked on this magazine, the first time round. He was a great man, affable and easy to talk to. He was free and easy with distilling and maturation information, as nerdy and complicated as you wanted, but had a way of explaining it in a straight forward fashion.

Like another of our US journalists, Liza Weisstuch, I was in Asia when I heard the news, opening Whisky Live Changsha in China. I said a few words and raised a glass to him. Even in that bubble of whisky fans, who just knew of his name, his death was marked.

A couple of memories sprung to mind when I heard of his sudden passing. Way back at the start of my tenure on this publication, I met him for the first time at Maker’s Mark. Not, as you might imagine, working the stills or nosing cask samples but behind the bar in the visitor centre. I forget what the event was now, but his passion and knowledge shone through.

One of my other memories of him was in the Brown Hotel in Louisville, Kentucky, after a long day of judging.

Even in that bubble of whisky fans, who just knew of his name, his death was marked

There had been a really odd sample in one of the competition flights, full of off-notes and weird vegetal smells. Struggling to work out what had gone wrong and how it happened, I turned to Dave. A couple of hours and pretty much half a notebook later I had the flavour building blocks of whiskey from field to cask explained away. His knowledge was really second to none.

Anyone who has such an affinity and connection with our whisky world, making such an impact on it as well, will always be sorely missed. Dave most certainly will be.
So this is not really the column I had been planning to write. I was actually going to write about Metallica’s Blackened whiskey and the slew of celebrity endorsements, and big Hollywood and sports names getting on board with brands.

While I am fairly sure there are some challenges with having a celebrity on side, the benefits are also pretty immense, it must be said. Just the social media coverage, something which is beginning to saturate our society, and brand awareness generated by the famous face, is mind boggling.

Someone told me that if a singer of the stature of Taylor Swift mentions or puts a photo of – let’s say for fun, this magazine – on her Twitter and Instagram feeds, it would reach hundreds of thousands of people within a few hours. It’s pretty impressive and demonstrates the extent of celebrity power.

You don’t have to look far in the whisky world to find such partnerships and collaborations. Either a famous person is attracted to a brand or wanted to release a whiskey and that particular brand fits their outlook.

This worries me a little. Is this just a passing fad because whisky is becoming more mainstream, more of a chance to make some money? I am not certain. If I had the answers, well, that would be a money spinner.

However, take for instance Matthew McConaughey, who has served as Wild Turkey’s creative director since 2016 and recently released his own brand. This represents more than just a skin in the game. Brands like Wild Turkey don’t release anything without equity and provenance. On this question, I reckon that age-old statement will stand: time will tell.