In a 2006 interview with WFPL News, famed distiller Dave Pickerell said: “There’s a difference between a distillery and a whiskey factory, and I work in a distillery.”
Pickerell died on Thursday, but this simple statement summarized the bulk of his philosophy on distilling. After spending 14 years at Maker’s Mark, he became a mentor and consultant for a new generation of craft bourbon and whiskey distillers.
He was known internationally for his contributions to the industry; in 2014, “Garden & Gun” referred to Pickerell both as “Mr. Whiskey” and “the Johnny Appleseed of American whiskey.”
“When you look at the growing artisan distilling movement over the last several years, he had a hand in just about every one of the ones that are doing really well now,” said Michael Veach, a bourbon historian and writer.
Fred Minnick, editor in chief of “Bourbon Plus Magazine,” said it’s hard to choose any one thing that Pickerell was best known for because he simply did so much.
“I mean, he consulted on more than 100 distilleries. He was a former master distiller of Maker’s, he was the founding master distiller of WhistlePig,” Minnick said.
“Dave was larger than life and he knew everything. He was so brilliant. I’ve had many people tell me he was the best distiller in the world.”
According to Minnick, Pickerell had a reputation for knowing pretty much everything — from how to fix a carburetor to mixing the perfect cocktail.
Reports say Pickerell was in San Francisco attending WhiskyFest San when he died of natural causes. He was 56.