Windsor·Pinto on Food

Hiram Walker's Don Livermore blends art and science into award-winning whiskies

Livermore was named the first "blender of the year" at the Canadian Whisky Awards.

Livermore was named the first 'blender of the year' at the Canadian Whisky Awards

CBC Windsor reporter Jonathan Pinto learns about the art of blending whisky with Don Livermore, recently named the first "blender of the year" at Canadian Whisky Awards. 4:00

Hiram Walker and Sons in Windsor is the largest distillery in Canada.

But beyond the sheer volume of alcohol it produces every day, it's also award-winning.

At this year's Canadian Whisky Awards, Hiram Walker picked up a number of honours — including Distillery of the Year.

And one of its employees also took home a new award. Don Livermore was named the first-ever "blender of the year."

It's not an honour they necessarily plan on handing out each year — just occasionally, when somebody does something truly special.

"Livermore seems to be just taking it a step higher," said Davin de Kergommeaux, author of Canadian Whisky and founder of the Canadian Whisky Awards.

Don Livermore is the master blender at the Hiram Walker and Sons distillery in Windsor. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

"It's more of an intelligent approach to blending. As much as he's using his palate, he's also using his science and theory to decide what things he could put together to make great whisky."

Livermore started at Hiram Walker as a microbiologist.

His research has revolutionized distillery labs across the world, thanks to a development of a process which reduced the time for detecting alcohol, sugars and acid in a sample from four hours to 30 seconds.

"I'm one of very very few master blenders in the world that has a PhD in brewing and distilling," Livermore said.

Inside the distillery's massive fermentation hall, which feature multi-storey tall tanks. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

With so many variables — different yeasts, grains, barrels and ages — Livermore is responsible for more than just blending whisky that will be sold today. 

He has to plan and develop spirits that will be blended by him and his successors decades into the future.

Tap on the audio player to hear Jonathan talk about his experience on Afternoon Drive.

What makes Canadian whisky special? Our Jonathan Pinto says it's all about the blend. He spent a day with Don Livermore, the award-winning man in charge of the process at Windsor's Hiram Walker distillery, to learn more. 11:01

If you'd like to try your own hand at blending whisky, Livermore offers blending classes to the public every two months. Tickets are available from the J.P. Wiser's Experience site here.

Unaged spirits in the distilling lab. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Livermore says producing award-winning whiskies is a team effort. One of the members of that team is maturation supervisor Donald Campbell, who takes care of the barrels being aged at Pike Creek.
Sixteen warehouses near Pike Creek in Lakeshore have a capacity to hold 1.7 million barrels. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Livermore developed the Canadian Whisky Flavour Wheel to demonstrate how different yeasts, grains and wood change the flavour of whisky. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
Livermore likens blending whisky to making a pizza. You start with base whiskies as the 'dough' and then the 'toppings' are stronger, bolder whiskies made commonly from rye and sometimes wheat and barley. (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)
A look at the whisky Jonathan Pinto designed. Livermore described it as 'a good, versatile whisky.' (Jonathan Pinto/CBC)

Jonathan Pinto is CBC Windsor's "food dude." Know of a place you think he'd enjoy? Have a craving for a food you haven't been able to track down? Send him an email: jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca — and be sure to follow his adventures on Instagram.

About the Author

Jonathan Pinto is a reporter/editor at CBC Windsor, primarily assigned to Afternoon Drive, CBC Radio's regional afternoon show for southwestern Ontario. Email jonathan.pinto@cbc.ca.

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