Like many, I’ve spent a good chunk of quarantine getting into things I’d meant to for a while, among them metal and whiskey. I usually keep them separate — metal is my motivation on after-work runs, and a cocktail is the reward later in the night — but when I heard about Metallica’s new whiskey for the group’s new album, S&M2, I thought, Why the hell not? I deserve a little music-product tie-in as a treat. This isn’t just some one-off cash grab, though: Metallica has been making whiskey since 2018 through their distillery, Blackened (which shares its name with their song and their record label), and the guys seem to be pretty into it. “The ultimate goal with Metallica is to connect with our fans through recordings, through concerts, and increasingly through any other way that further creates a bond,” the band said in a statement at the time. “The ultimate goal is to make a whiskey that fits into the Metallica experience and sets itself apart from all the others.”
If you told me Metallica made whiskey, I’d expect some sort of 110-proof black sludge that burns harder than Fireball. Blackened American Whiskey, which is only 90 proof, is not that. It gets its name because the whiskey is aged in black brandy barrels. Or maybe they worked backward from the name and decided they might as well age it in the black brandy barrels for the bit. Regardless, it sounds like a fancy thing someone who was actually trying to make a good and interesting whiskey would do. But it doesn’t sound very metal. The actual metal part is that the distillery plays Metallica for the whiskey while it’s aging, like those fancy dairy farms that play Mozart for the cows. (The distillery publicizes each batch’s playlist, and only one, 100, has actually listened to “Blackened,” though.) Blackened says the sound waves are supposed to “disrupt the whiskey inside the barrel, causing increased wood interaction that kicks up the wood-flavor characteristics in the whiskey.” If the whiskey isn’t going to taste like hellfire, at least it’ll taste like wood.
Blackened Batch 106 is No. 26 because the first batch was 81 — clever! — and it got to listen to Metallica’s newest project, S&M2, a live album with the San Francisco Symphony from two 2019 performances. It’s the second time Metallica has released such an album, after the first S&M in 1999. The new project is the most polite, inoffensive version of Metallica; it sounds like the sort of thing that someone who extolls the virtues of brandy-aged whiskey would listen to. I specifically gravitated toward the band for its early thrash music, hard and fast stuff that just pummels your ears. Instead, the strings and horns on S&M2 cushion the blow from any of that, like the soundtrack to a dramatic scene in a children’s movie that’s trying to be cool.
But back to the whiskey. I had two different questions as I tasted Blackened Batch 106. The first was whether the whiskey tastes like S&M2, as much as a whiskey can taste like an album, and the answer is a definitive yes. Blackened Batch 106 is the sort of thing you wouldn’t feel out of place ordering in your suit after your night at the symphony. Like the album, it’s delicate and buttery and pretty light overall, a blend of bourbons and ryes that mirrors S&M2’s blend of sweet orchestral arrangements with, uh, spicy thrash-metal songs? You get the idea. Drinking it made me feel refined — I wasn’t drinking a whiskey that slapped me in the face and told me it was hard liquor but a whiskey that had notes, among them vanilla, caramel, honey, clove, cinnamon, nutmeg, and apricot. It’s extremely sippable, and the first time I made an old-fashioned with it, I downed it in no time.
The second question was whether Blackened Batch 106 is any good, and the answer is no. I wouldn’t order this whiskey after my night at the symphony, not just because there’s a pandemic and there isn’t a symphony for me to be at but because I got bored of it pretty quickly. I could only pick out about half of those alleged notes, and definitely not the apricot. It’s thin — so thin that I barely even tasted it when I mixed it with some ginger beer. It was probably best when I put it in eggnog, where its dominant butterscotch-y flavor shined.
Which brings me back to the problem at the center of all this. I shouldn’t be putting Metallica whiskey into eggnog. I shouldn’t be searching for (or finding!) flavors like vanilla and clove and apricot in Metallica whiskey. And I shouldn’t be drinking Metallica whiskey that was aged in brandy casks with help from the vibrations of symphonic Metallica music! The fact that S&M2 is a gimmick (and such a tired one: “serious” orchestral music elevating “unserious” metal) only makes you realize that Blackened Batch 106 is even more of a gimmick, from an awesome band that’s developed a reputation for being a bit gimmicky. But even through all the gimmicks, Metallica is still a band that does not half-ass things. They play their music for their whiskey! And on Blackened Batch 106, at least you can tell.