On the blogby Alfred
November 13 2018

Canadian whisky: the chemistry is undeniable!

by Eric Van Hove

By Eric Van Hove, Passion Whisky Quebec Group
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It is not often that we can meet a “doctorate” in whisky. There are a few known ones that are constantly trying to define (or redefine) the norms of whisky.

Dr. Jim “the whisky whispered” Swan has been, until his death last year, a consultant for many distilleries start-ups across the globe. He has also helped to create the “Scotch Whisky Institute” and was a co-creator of the first whisky flavour wheel. Jim Swan was a diplomate in chemistry and a doctorate in biology.

Dr. Bill Lumsden is the director of creation, distillation and inventory for Glenmorangie. He has been on the forefront, since 1995, of the exploration of new ways of aging in casks and by continuing to market very intriguing products. He is a doctorate in microbial and fermentation physiology, after having obtained a diploma in microbiology.

For my part, I met Dr. Don Livermore, master of assembly since 2012 at Hiram Walker & Sons Limited (Windsor, Ontario). This name probably means nothing to you, so let me present this distillery in more detail; it produces the Wiser’s, Pike Creek, Lot40 and Gooderham & Worts whiskies and the distillate product for the Canadian Club and Gibson’s Finest products. 70% of the annual volume of Canadian whiskies is produced in this distillery located right next to the United States border, just in front of Downtown Detroit, on the Detroit River. 55 million liters are produced there every year, which is equivalent to the reunited production of the five largest Scotland distilleries. Glenfiddich, the largest of all, produces 13.7 liters annually.

Dr. Don Livermore graduated in microbiology in 1996 in Ontario and immediately joined the distillery as a lab technician. He then pursued a master’s degree and a doctorate in “mixing and distillation” at the Heriot-Watt University located in Edinburg in Scotland, the same university where Dr. Jim Swan studied at. 

His passion for Canadian whisky is contagious. He shared with us some of his more glorious career moments, but often unknown to all. If you have to remember one thing of this text, remember that Canadian whisky, unlike what is usually said, did not see his production increase the most during the prohibition at the beginning of the 20th century. It is with the American Civil War from 1861 to 1865, where the Americans from the north did not purchase whisky from their enemies of the south, therefore creating a huge surge in sales. At the end of the war, the Canadian whisky was the most popular whisky in the United States and remained in this position until 2010, where the Bourbon took over.

It is very quickly possible to observe that Dr. Livermore does not talk about whisky like the others. With him, no weird stories of Viking ships and sea monsters more than 800 years ago. He presents to us a set of graphs indicating the various distillation temperatures for all the molecules and for aging in casks. In summary, it is more like a chemistry class, but not the boring kind as it was incredibly interesting to learn more about this art. It is a fantastic way to simplify the flavor creation process and to clearly show the various ways to produce whisky. 

But it doesn’t end there! Don Livermore shares all his knowledge with everyone by creating “The Canadian Whisky Flavor Wheel”. At the heart of this wheel can be found the various sources of flavors: grain, yeast and wood, while the molecules responsible for these flavors can be found on the outer ring with the various whiskies listed by these sources. Simply marvelous.

If you ever have the opportunity to meet Dr. Livermore, do not miss this occasion; he is a true passionate that will show you aspects of whisky that you have never seen before.

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Photos : Eric Van Hove, Passion Whisky Quebec Group and Dr. Don Livermore, Hiram Walker & Sons Limited

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