Whisky Magazine Issue 136
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The art and science of flavour
Legendary whisky man, Samuel Bronfman often declared, “Distilling is a science, blending is an art.” Dr Don Livermore, the Master Blender at Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor, Canada is certainly a whisky artist. And with a PhD in brewing and distilling from Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, Scotland, he knows his whisky science too. To see him smelling grain as it sifts through his fingers is to watch an artist choosing his paints. He crafts hundreds of iterations for each new release, not stopping until he has perfected his latest masterpiece. Who better to lead us through a tutored look at where in the whisky making process the flavours of these masterpieces arise?
Whisky begins with grain. After milling, fermenting and distilling, the resulting spirit is left to sit in oak barrels. Within this taste-changing wooden cocoon, it becomes a rich, highly variable liquid with flavours that make it one of the world's most desired and discussed drinks – whisky. That flavour though, where does it come from? There are five primary flavour sources in whisky: grain, yeast, wood, age and diffusion. What begins with grain and is influenced by wood is shaped by the passage of time.
Grain and wood share many characteristics. Like wood, grain is composed of long carbohydrates called cellulose and hemi-cellulose, which are held together by a third molecule called lignin. “Grain or wood,” says Livermore, “cellulose and hemi-cellulose are the bricks, and lignin is the mort...