Meet the expert… Don Livermore
Dr. Don Livermore is the Master Blender of Hiram Walker & Sons Limited in Windsor, Ontario, Canada. He is responsible for some of Canada’s award-winning whiskies such as JP Wiser’s, Lot 40, Pike Creek, and Gooderham & Worts. The focus of his PhD in Brewing in Distilling at Heriot Watt University was how wood interacts with whisky and he has also created the Canadian Whisky Flavour Wheel© which is a unique perspective on blending whisky.
In the third episode of our Still Life podcast, Don discusses the fascinating world of Canadian whisky. Here, we caught up with him to find how he discovered whisky and what a typical day in his job involves…
I really didn’t discover whisky until I went to university. I had taken many courses in my undergraduate studies on fermentation sciences. Understanding the mechanism of yeast fermentation probably was my first introduction to whisky, unknowingly at the time. I think it introduced me to the importance of brewing sciences and how it has a dramatic effect on all alcoholic beverages.
A microbiology degree got me in the door to Hiram Walker Distillery, but several jobs within the company plus taking advantage of our educational policy to work on a MSc and PhD in Brewing and Distilling lead me to the role of Master Blender. I think a clear understanding of all facets of whisky production helps a Master Blender make better decisions which ultimately leads to quality whisky.
Being a Master Blender involves three sides to the whisky business. R&D and innovation, ensuring the day to day quality of our whiskies and public relations. Not necessarily in that order. I had a boss once describe it as a connector, where the Blender connects all facets of whisky production to get to the result of the liquid in the bottle in end.
We base our decisions around grain types, quality, and sources. We have to understand the brewing fundamentals as yeast is the heartbeat of a distillery as it produces many of the flavour components that are found in our products. We must be aligned with the distiller as distillation shapes the flavours in the whisky. We need to understand the importance of a barrel both in how it contributes flavour and how a second fill barrel reacts with our whisky.
But the larger picture is to steer the business in the direction that sets up future successes. Understand the consumer current and future needs and time the releases at appropriate times. As a Master Blender you do leave your personal legacy, but you must consider the legacy of the future Blenders.
Whisky wisdom: quick fire questions
First whiskey you ever tasted?
Not sure which brand, but definitely Canadian Whisky in a cocktail
Best whiskey you have ever tasted?
JP Wiser’s Dissertation – it was a limited release in Canada that consisted of 78 barrels that I used during my PhD thesis.
Who is your ‘whiskey hero’?
C.S. Buroff – He was our Master Blender in Hiram Walker from post prohibition to the 1960s. He was key to bringing engineering, chemistry, and biological principles to the whisky process.
Who would you most like to conduct a whisky tasting for, dead or alive?
C.S. Buroff – same as above.
Favourite distillery to visit?
Ultimate bottling for your collection?
I have an unopened bottle of Gooderham & Worts Little Brown Jug from 1985.
Favourite non-whisky drink?
Favourite whisky and food pairing?
Lot 40 100% rye whisky with steak.