A Sip of Canadian History with Dr. Don Livermore

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I am a who loves her whisky; more specifically I am a Canadian that loves whisky. But until I connected with Dr. Don Livermore, Master Blender, I didn’t realize how little I knew about one of our nation’s historic pillars.

Canada has been producing whisky (without the ‘e’) before it was its own country. Whisky is just as much a part of the Canadian identity as the maple leaf, the beaver, even hockey (with an ‘e’ of course). Gooderham, Corby, Seagram, Walker and Wiser are names any whisky drinker would recognize, but did you know for the first fifty years of Canada’s independence, the only tax revenue was generated from the distillers. I guess one may call them founding fathers of sorts.

Believe it or not, Canadians started off trying our hand at rum (and have been moderately successful in the Atlantic provinces). As the settlers moved further inland, the molasses which was imported from the Caribbean just could not make the trek. With wheat aplenty, they began producing traditional wheat based whisky, not long after giving way to German and Dutch influences and producing a bolder more flavour intense whisky from rye, which has become a Canadian signature.

Rye and Canadian whisky, however, are not synonymous, but Canada has done a remarkable job of perfecting this varietal.

In typical Canadian fashion, and often to our own detriment, we remain painfully apologetic about our accomplishments. 75% of Canadian produced whisky is exported to its neighbours to the south. The Americans clearly know what’s good. Livermore says we pump out some of the best whisky in the world, and it’s quite unique from the scotches of Europe and the bourbons from American southern states.

So what makes Canadian whisky so special? Well here are a few reasons:

  1. Historically, Canada is a whisky giant creating the regulatory laws around aging whisky that were later adopted in Scotland and the United States. In order to qualify as Canadian whiskey, it must be aged a minimum of three years.
  2. Canadian whisky (for the most part) is single distilled. This means Canadian distillers don’t buy or exchange their barrels with other distillers, which keeps it pure and unadulterated (similar to single malt scotches).
  3. Canadian whisky is often described as spicy, bold, and refined. Because of the tempered climate, it can get as hot as a summer day in Kentucky, and colder than a winter night in Glasgow. These shifts in temperature offer plenty to the drink’s subtle nuances. Canadian whiskies have distinct flavour which makes them enjoyable on their own or in a cocktail.
  4. Arguably one of the things Canadian whisky makers do better than any other is blend. Canadians blend their whisky after aging and this is where the Master Blending skills come in. Each element (corn, rye, wheat, barley spirits) is aged separately and brought to its optimal condition then blended together to give you a premium final product. The unique profile from one brand to the next exists in this blending process.

Dr. Don Livermore is a bit of a national treasure, himself, with over twenty years of experience, a Masters in Microbiology, and a PhD in Brewing and Distilling. He is credited with creating analytical techniques in the brewing and distilling process using infrared sensors and has written a chapter in The Alcohol Textbook 4th Edition. Livermore, a Master Blender at Hiram Walker, expressed both excitement and dismay when looking at the future of Canadian whisky brands.

“We are so innovative here. We take risks with flavour and are continually winning awards for exceptional product. But on a larger, global scale, few people know how great our whisky really is,” explained Livermore. “Canadian whisky is great in cocktails, but because of its bold flavour we find millennials are really enjoying it neat or on the rocks.”

Through my conversation with Livermore, I realized that Canadians suffer from what I refer to as P.R.M.D., Public Relations and Marketing Deficiency. We really need to get the word out there. I asked him to share some of the rising trends in the world of whiskey.

“There is a lot happening, really. Whisky, unlike beer, is not as easy to experiment with. It’s a long-haul investment since it takes at least three years to distill, but there definitely are a few micro-distillers making their presence known.” He goes on to list progressions in the marketplace:

  1. Rye Whiskey: Rye has and continues to be a staple in Canadian whisky because it offers the biggest flavour impact. I hope to see more experimentation with variations of the actual grain.
  2. Cast Finishing: This is really catching on with ambitious blenders. Finishing the whisky in a wine or cognac barrels or just experimenting with a host of different barrels to finish the whisky. You can taste the difference.
  3. The Brewing Process: Exploring the scientific process of making alcohol. We often overlook that yeast and fermentation have a huge impact on the flavour of alcohol. Livermore expressed the unlikelihood the industry will reach this level of exploration in his lifetime, but really hopes the next generation of whisky makers will take the artform/science to this frontier.

One thing Dr. Livermore will certainly see happen in his lifetime is the debut of his very own whisky. JP Wiser’s Dissertation was the recipient of the prestigious World’s Best Blended Limited Release Award at this year’s World Whiskies Awards. Livermore joked about the nod to his science roots when he developed the drink with 46.1% alcohol (46.1g/mol being the molecular weight of ethanol/alcohol).

 

 

Sources Cited:

De Kergommeaux, David. “A Journaist’s Primer on Canadian Whiskey.” CanadianWhisky.org, April 5, 2017

Angelina Williams
Angelina Williams
Hotelier, Food & Beverage Enthusiast, Media Personality.