Whiskey Review: Blackened X Willett Kentucky Straight Rye

Editor’s Note: This whiskey was provided to us as a review sample by Blackened. This in no way, per our editorial policies, influenced the final outcome of this review. It should also be noted that by clicking the buy link towards the bottom of this review our site receives a small referral payment which helps to support, but not influence, our editorial and other costs.

I’ve had whiskey aged at sea, whiskey intentionally aged in high heat, and whiskey developed in a lab in an attempt to circumvent the traditional barrel-aging process. Never before, though, have I had whiskey subjected to percussive waves of heavy metal music as part of the aging and finishing process.

Blackened is a whiskey brand that made its debut in 2018 with the backing of Metallica. One of the conceits behind the brand is that the whiskey goes through what Blackened calls its “Black Noise sonic-enhancement process” in the finishing stages, courtesy of the band’s music. The resulting vibrations in the liquid are supposed to increase interaction between the wood and whiskey. That’s the theory.

The reality, I have always suspected, is that the selection of the bourbon and rye being blended by the label has far more to do with the quality of the final product than the music does. (Based upon recent reviews on this site – Blackened Whiskey Batch 106 Cask Strength earlier this year and the flagshgip Blackened Whiskey last year – they’ve done a decent job on that front.) Either way, the bottom line is how good the whiskey smells and tastes, as opposed to how it’s made.

On August 31, Blackened christened a new line of releases it’s calling the Master of Whiskey Series. The first release in the series is a rye chosen and blended in collaboration with the Kentucky-based Willett Distillery – the Blackened X Willett Kentucky Straight Rye, finished in Madeira wine casks.

Willett Master Distiller Drew Kulsveen worked with Rob Dietrich, the mater distiller and blender at Blackened, to select and blend ryes for this new project. Ultimately, they settled on one high-rye Willett mash bill and one lower-rye mash bill, which collectively were aged for an average of 6.5 years. They then subjected the new blend to more than two months finishing in Madeira wine casks while Metallica’s low-frequency sound waves pummeled the wood.

One of the songs on the Metallica playlist for those 14 weeks of finishing was “Broken, Beat and Scarred,” which appears to be the idea with the whiskey, too. Whether the sonic scarring ultimately makes a difference in the juice you pour is something you’ll have to decide for yourself.

Blackened x Willett Straight Rye Whiskey Finished In Madeira Casks

Blackened x Willett Straight Rye Whiskey Finished In Madeira Casks (image via Sweet Amber Spirits)

Tasting Notes: Blackened X Willett Kentucky Straight Rye

Vital Stats: Blend of low-rye and high-rye mash bills from the Willett Family Estate Reserve Selection, aged for an average of 6.5 years in American oak, finished for up to 14 weeks in Madeira wine casks while undergoing an 11-song Metallica playlist as part of “sonic enhancement”; bottled at cask strength; 109.6 proof/54.8% alcohol by volume; $139.99 for a 750ml bottle.

Appearance: Dark amber, almost brown.

Nose: The Madeira-cask finishing makes itself apparent immediately. This is a whiskey that has a sweetness on the nose, almost a plumminess, which I attribute to the influence of the sweet wine. I get strawberry, blood orange and fresh-ground mint.

Palate: It may not have smelled like a traditional rye, but you taste the rye spice as soon as you take a sip. It hits you immediately, then dissipates just as quickly. Behind the spice, there’s – at the risk of the obvious cliché – a darkness. I’d equate it to pomegranate, fig preserves, charred wood and sweet tobacco leaves.

The Takeaway


Sweet Amber Distilling, the company behind Blackened, declined to tell me how many cases of this release it made for the 38 states in which it’s available. But it emphasized that it is a “limited” release only, as will be the future releases in the Master of Whiskey Series. Most likely, that means it will go fast and you’ll see it pop up soon on secondary market prices.

The bottom line is that this rye holds up well next to some of the ones I like best on my bar, which is a good sign. It’s distinctive, with those telltale madeira notes. Metallica fans, or whiskey drinkers who want to collect a heavy metal series of whiskies, will want this for sure. But rye fans who couldn’t care less about sonic enhancement can also enjoy this one. I look forward to seeing what future Master of Whiskey releases will bring to the table, too.

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Scott Bernard Nelson

Scott Bernard Nelson is a writer, actor and whiskey reviewer in Portland, Ore. Scott works in higher education these days, but he previously spent 22 years as a journalist, covering 9/11 in Manhattan, crossing into Iraq with U.S. Marines and contributing to The Boston Globe's Pulitzer Prize-winning coverage of sexual...