The Doctors of Whisky Are InBy Jake Emen
Feeling a bit under the weather? Well, you may already enjoy a whisky a day to keep the doctor away, but little did you know that there are numerous doctors who actually have their hands in the process. That’s right, the whisky world is filled with doctors— as in, legitimate PhDs—from science buffs fine-tuning whisky creation, to others deep-diving into history and tradition.
Dr. Jim Swan “The Single Malt Whisperer”
Sadly, we just lost one of them, with the passing of the legendary Dr. Jim “The Single Malt Whisperer” Swan in February. Swan’s scientific research and prescribed methodologies helped extend the boundaries of single malt across the globe, from Taiwan’s Kavalan to Penderyn in Wales, and from England’s St. George to India’s Amrut, Israel’s Milk & Honey, and many others.
Dr. Swan had a PhD in Chemistry and Biological Sciences from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University. He helped found what went on to become the Scotch Whisky Research Institute, and he co-created the first Scotch whisky flavor wheel.
In honor of Dr. Swan, here, we take a look at three more Doctors of Whisky.
Dr. Bill Lumsden – “The Fantastic Finisher”
Dr. Lumsden is the Director of Distilling, Whisky Creation & Whisky Stocks for the Glenmorangie Company, which includes both Glenmorangie and Ardbeg. At Glenmorangie, he led the charge for the now nearly ubiquitous practice of cask finishing, and new releases there continue to showcase new and intriguing cask finishes.
There’s no cask too obscure or unexplored for his tastes, and recent expressions have ranged from the Malmsey Madeira casks of Bacalta to the deep toasted wine casks of Milsean. Glenmorangie Signet, with chocolate malt and bespoke casks, remains one of his signature releases.
He obtained a PhD in Microbial Physiology and Fermentation Science from Edinburgh’s Heriot-Watt University, after obtaining a degree in biochemistry from Glasgow University. He’s been with Glenmorangie since 1995.
Dr. Don Livermore – “The Infrared Innovator”
“I started in the industry in 1996, I got hired as a microbiologist,” says Livermore. After working in fermentation and distillation, he started to look into a new form of technology. “I developed a technique using infrared sensors to measure fermentation, and I’ve written chapters in the alcohol textbook which is for geeky people like me…That’s my thing, really, how infrared sensors work inside of ethanol facilities and how you monitor fermentation.”
Next came a stint in R&D, and time spent learning how to blend, before his education continued in the classroom. “The company sent me to school to do my Masters of Science in Brewing and Distilling in Edinburgh, Scotland, at the University of Heriot-Watt—really the only English-speaking school in the world with a brewing and distilling degree,” says Livermore. Just look at that university’s whisky alumnus, with Swan, Lumsden, and Livermore all studying there!
“Then as of March 2012 I became the master blender and that was actually the same week I finished my PhD in brewing and distilling, that’s when I did my dissertation,” says Livermore. “Again I was using infrared sensors, but not from a fermentation look, using it to measure the quality of a barrel.”
Based on compounds on the surface of the barrel, he’s able to project years into a whisky’s maturation. “I could tell you what a whisky is going to look like in three years of aging before it even goes into the barrel,” says Livermore. While they haven’t yet instituted that on an industrial or production scale, the technology was proven successful in the laboratory.
Dr. Nicholas Morgan – “The Scotch Storyteller”
Dr. Morgan is the head of whisky outreach at Diageo, joining the company, then still called United Distillers, in 1990. If you have a question about the history of Scotch, then surely, he has you covered—not only with the facts, but most likely with an entertaining anecdote to match.
Prior to his now three-decade stint in the whisky world, he taught modern Scottish history at the University of Glasgow. He also studied medieval history, and published an edited version of his thesis “Lancashire Quakers and the establishment 1660-1730” in 1993.
If that doesn’t sound like your cup of tea though, then perhaps you should stick with his Scotch studies. He was originally responsible for establishing Diageo’s archives, and has moved from marketing director to Scotch heritage director to his current role. Today, he continues exploring the finest nooks and crannies of the industry’s background, which also helps to put its place in the modern world into proper perspective.
We toast to Dr. Swan’s memory, and the rest of the Doctors of Whisky working hard on all of our behalves.
– Dr. Bill Lumsden courtesy of Glenmorangie
– Dr. Don Livermore courtesy of Hiram Walker
– Dr. Nick Morgan photo credit Sim Canetty-Clarke
Have the Doctors of Whisky inspired you?