Rock’N Vino: Distiller Rob Dietrich plays metal for Metallica’s Blackened Whiskey barrels

Rob Dietrich, Blackened American Whiskey, Metallica

Rob Dietrich of Blackened American Whiskey.

The fusion of music and the development of craft beverage is not a foreign concept at its core. Vintners have played music to grapes on the vine or in the barrel to see how they react, and distillers have used music in the process of aging spirits to influence the flavor profile. For Rob Dietrich, who heads Metallica’s Blackened American Whiskey, the process digs much deeper.

Dietrich and his team tapped into a unique twist on the musical infusion called “sonic enhancement.” While the whiskey ages in the barrel, it’s hit with low-frequency sound waves—in the form of Metallica songs. This supposedly encourages molecular interaction with the barrel.

Metallica itself gets involved with the process. For a given batch of whiskey, James Hetfield, Lars Ulrich, Kirk Hammett and Robert Trujillo curate the playlist. As each one differs from the rest, the bass or tempo of the given songs changes the ways in which the molecules interact with the barrel. This theoretically makes each batch of Blackened, while built from the same blends and processes, slightly different in terms of its finish. The batch number is then printed on the bottle, allowing fans to look up which band member curated their playlist and import the songs to their Spotify account.

“There have been studies on the molecular structure of water and how … you can actually see the molecules changing by the different music that’s played or how you treat the water,” he said to Mike DeWald and Carina “Coco” Sterzenbach during the most recent taping of the Rock’N Vino Podcast. “The [process] we are using … there is scientific proof that it changes the whiskey.”

Music has always been a passion for Dietrich. An Army veteran with combat experience in Somalia, he first set his sights on a career in the music business. Dietrich worked various jobs related to the production of concerts, including rigging, eventually working for Bill Graham Presents.

His passion for restoring vintage motorcycles led him to meet Jess Graber, founder of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey, because the two shared a desire to build two-wheelers powered by alternative fuels, such as the waste products from whisky stills. Graber hired Dietrich to work the graveyard shift at the distillery. Dietrich lives in Colorado now.

His passion for whiskey grew, leading all the way up to him becoming the master distiller at Stranahan’s before making the move to Blackened. While the whiskey distillation is based in Vermont, Dietrich now oversees the entire creative process of distillation, including sourcing, blending and cask-finishing the barrels for each batch.

Founded in 2018, Blackened was born out of a shared appreciation of the creative process of music and distilling. Metallica first hired legendary distiller Dave Pickerell, considered the pioneer of craft distilling, until he passed away. The band also chose to develop its whiskey under its own label, Sweet Amber Distilling, rather than licensing it to a corporate giant. The black sound wave label is the actual waveform of Hetfield barking the lyric “Blackened” on the namesake song from …And Justice For All. The “IVI” logo on the top of the bottle represents the collaboration between the band, its fanbase and the distiller.

Dietrich said there’s a potential to eventually open a distillery in the Bay Area. In 2020, the label will be available at all five of the Danny Wimmer Presents festivals that Metallica will be headlining, including two nights at Aftershock.