David Whitmer

He’s a scientist and a quality guru, ensuring that all MGP products—whether alcohol or food ingredients – meet the strictest standards. But there’s more to his work: a passion for storytelling and the joy of creating special whiskeys. His team includes Master Blenders at the historic distillery in Lawrenceburg, Indiana. Meet David Whitmer, Master Blender, Executive Bourbon Steward and Vice President of Quality and Compliance. Did his seventh-grade science project start it all?

When did you start at MGP, and what was your first position here?

February 13, 2006. Quality Manager.

What is your educational background?

Bachelor of Science (Biology/Chemistry) from Graceland University, Lamoni, Iowa, and Master of Arts (Industrial Management) from the University of Northern Iowa in Cedar Falls

Why do you do what you do?

People often talk about mixing “art and science,” but I think about my role as blending “fun and science.” It is fun to create something different and exciting for someone.

What part of your job do you consider crucial that others might overlook?

As I tell our Master Blenders, what we create must be greater than the sum of its parts, or stated another way, 1 + 1 must equal 3 or more. MGP has so many great whiskeys and we can make them great and unique for our customers.

What album would you listen to while working around the house?

It varies from The Beatles to Franz Liszt, but I also enjoy checking out new alternative rock artists

What’s your favorite distilled spirit?

Rye whiskey, of course! I enjoy all the rye whiskey mash bills MGP makes, and I particularly like blending them to achieve the perfect balance of rye spice with hints of vanilla and chocolate.

What blog, podcast, website or book do you go to for education on the industry?

The TTB website is my first go-to, especially if there is a “TTB Industry Circular” on a subject that gives me insight into something I had not thought of.

What do you do exceptionally well?

Storytelling. Whether it is helping people connect how a grain impacts a whiskey, similar to how a grain impacts bread, or explaining the history of our distillery, a story helps people connect something familiar (like bread) with the characteristics of whiskey. When a story creates an “ah ha” moment for someone, they will remember and be a more informed whiskey consumer.

Who has had the most influence on your career?

My parents. Their strong work ethic was instilled in me, which has served my career well. Also, for my 7th grade science fair project, they let me make alcohol!

You made alcohol in the 7th grade?

Yes! When it was time to come up with a science fair project and all my classmates were going to make baking soda and vinegar volcanoes or potato batteries, I decided to make alcohol. My grandfather and uncle had a dairy farm, so I had easy access to corn. My father helped me get yeast and enzymes, and I started mashing the grains. I set up a distillation column using the kitchen sink as my cooling water source (which did not exactly thrill my mother) and distilled my alcohol about five times. During the science fair, the judges from the local colleges asked me questions and then to my surprise took a sip of what I had made. I thought I was going to get into trouble, but instead I got first place!

What has been the most rewarding part of your time at MGP?

At MGP, we enjoy being either a customer’s R&D department or an extension of their innovation team. It is extremely rewarding to help customers develop and launch brands with the fantastic spirits we produce.

What’s the biggest difference in blending today versus when you started?

Today there is greater interest in and acceptance of unconventional blends and secondary barrel finishes. Both are great ways for someone to use MGP liquid and make uniquely their own.

How would you describe MGP to someone who is unfamiliar with us?

As I often tell people, MGP is the largest distillery you have never heard of! After that, I will explain how we make most of the world’s rye whiskey, quite a bit of bourbon, and gin for customers of all sizes.

What’s the biggest misconception about your job and MGP?

MGP is not a “one size fits all” spirits provider. We love to help our customers fulfill their vision and help them come up with something that is uniquely theirs.

What is something great about MGP that no one knows about?

While people know MGP for making wonderful rye whiskey, people often do not know that MGP makes great  bourbon! Also, the Lawrenceburg distillery created the category of Light Whiskey, which is aged in a used barrel, just like Scotch or Irish Whiskey is aged. Light Whiskey is a wonderful blending whiskey or a great standalone aged whiskey.