Whisky Advocate

Canadian Catches Up: Hiram Walker expansion planned

March 6th, 2014

Author - Davin de KergommeauxAfter several years of very encouraging sales, managers at Canada’s largest distillery have decided to expand production capacity. In 2014, $8 million will be invested on new and upgraded facilities. The coldest winter in a century delayed construction, but the cement is now poured for a new tank house at Pernod-Ricard’s Hiram Walker and Sons distillery in Windsor, Ontario.

“The bottleneck here is the column stills,” master blender Don Livermore told me. “We can’t speed up the stills without affecting quality, so we are constructing a new building with four tanks to hold excess high wines. That will let us run the beer stills longer without getting backed up.”

Changes are coming in blending and bottling as well, where expansion will increase overall volumes while enabling smaller production runs. When your lines are geared to over 400 bottles a minute, it’s difficult to do small batches. New equipment in the bottling hall will permit a more leisurely pace, allowing it to process smaller runs. And good news for whisky lovers: capacity for short runs could lead to more new products making it into field-testing and onto your home bars.HIRAM WALKER & SONS LIMITED - Major Investment in Windsor, ON

“When you are set up for high production it’s difficult to attract business from small producers,” says Jason Leithead, who manages the bottling hall. “Right now a seemingly trivial change can be a monumental undertaking for us.”

Hiram Walker and Sons president Patrick O’Driscoll agrees: “The new production volume will smooth out the seasonal peaks to offer more stable employment and enhanced partnership opportunities for our customers.”

The expansion will boost overall bottling capacity by 230,000 cases. Hiram Walker currently employs about 400 people across Canada, 300 at the distillery.

“In my 18 years at Hiram Walker I’ve never seen it this busy,” Livermore tells me. “We were distilling about 20 million liters a year when I started. Last year we made the equivalent of 55 million liters of pure alcohol.” That translates into a lot of whisky. Key brands include Wiser’s, Canadian Club (made for Beam), and Gibson’s Finest (for Wm. Grant). Hiram Walker and Sons makes about 70% of all Canadian whisky, of which about 75% is sold to independent bottlers in Canada and abroad.

If Livermore has his way, this expansion is just the start of bigger things to come. “My long-term vision is to have an education center right here at the distillery. We make great products here and we need to tell people all about them.” That project is at least a decade down the road, says Livermore. For now, expanding capacity to keep up with demand and support growing consumer interest in small-batch high-end specialty whiskies is the top priority.

7 Responses to “Canadian Catches Up: Hiram Walker expansion planned”

  1. Rick Duff says:

    Hiram Walker makes Canadian Club.. that is a large chunk of the 75% sold to independent bottlers.

    Additionally, Ontario is providing $1 million to this expansion.

    http://blogs.windsorstar.com/2014/02/28/hiram-walker-gets-2-6-million-to-add-bottling-line/

    • Davin de Kergommeaux says:

      Yes, Rick, you are right about that. Thanks for underlining that point. Most exciting for me is the concept – and it’s still a concept – of a visitors’ centre with tours. That’s something you raised ages ago and the seed, if not germinating yet, at least seems to be planted. And of course the potential for small batches is pretty cool too.

      • Tadas A says:

        Canadian Club has a Heritage Center on site. It is a really beautiful historic building that is worth visiting. Very popular place for weddings. They have 1.5 hour tours showing history of Hiram Walker and Canadian Club. Tasting is at the end of the tour. See http://canadianclub.com/experience
        By the way, Canadian Club brand is owned by Jim Beam and Hiram Walker distillery is owned Pernod-Ricard.

      • Jason H says:

        I also would love a visitors centre- that is an exciting concept! Canadian distilleries can be a bit impenetrable! Good to see some expansion happening in this category…

  2. Dennie Hammer says:

    Davin,
    Does the Hiram Walker distillery in Windsor have a retail shop? I will be in Detroit this May and may hop across the bridge for a visit if they do.

    • Rick Duff says:

      You can’t purchase directly at the distillery. Check out http://www.lcbo.ca for a list of what is available there, and pricing. I’ve been able to pick up stuff like 20 year old Candian Club by checking there and finding it in stock at specific LCBO’s.
      Don’t buy any common bottles there though.. get them at Duty Free on your way back to Detroit. Of note though, the Candian Club Spiced in Canada is different than the US version.. and much better in my wife’s opinion. I’ve gotten some nice older Wiser’s for a good price at Duty Free. I prefer the Bridge to the Tunnel for selection. Great Whisky in Windsor.. Wiser (Hiram Walker) making all of their stuff, and Canadian Club made there as well. All aged in the county up near Lake St. Clair. Down the river in Amherstburg is a Crown Royal bottling plant. If you drive by there, turn at the street just north of it and drive to the back.. there are mountains of barrels sitting there and a nice sight. Open your windows and breath in.
      Unfortunately only tour is Candian Club which is just a heritage tour about the beautiful old building and history.. but a great tour. Tasting at the end. Near the distillery in Walkerville is also the Walkerville Brewery.

      Would so love for Wiser’s to open a tour.

  3. Davin de Kergommeaux says:

    Canadian Club has a shop in their brand centre on Riverside Drive. Canadian Club memorabilia only; no Gibson’s or Wiser’s. For actual whisky you have to go to LCBO. There’s one not too far from the Brand Centre.

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