The common wisdom I’d heard was that bourbon must — simply must — be aged in barrels for at least five years to in fact be considered “bourbon.” But at Cleveland Whiskey in Ohio, founder and CEO Tom Lix is a firm believer that technology can accomplish in days what a barrel stashed underground would take a half-decade.
According, Mr. Lix pours his mashes into a stainless steel vat along with chopped up pieces of barrel so that the wood can give the whiskey its traditional brown color. And in days, he emphasizes, many of Cleveland Whiskey’s products are ready for tasting and selling.
Some, he says, even in 24 hours.
Having spent time in both Kentucky and Scotland, I was convinced that whiskey made in this fashion could simply not taste as bourbon or other whiskeys should. I was wrong.
Mr. Lix produced for me his Black Reserve, whose quality of taste is on par with Knob Creek. Its complexity and mature profile absolutely fooled me into believing I was tasting whiskey years in the making. Less than a day removed from production, Mr. Lix’s patented aging process has sped up the maturation from years to hours. Amazing.
It’s not surprising that Mr. Lix’s business is located inside an industrial complex on Cleveland’s north side, in a business building dedicated to innovation in manufacturing. Little wonder the proprietor of Cleveland Whiskey is so on the vanguard of ingenuity. (There is even a picture of former President Barack Obama shaking hands with Mr. Lix during Mr. Obama’s swing through these parts during a tour centered on innovation.)
Next he has me try out the 94 proof Black Cherry Wood, which is an absolute wow. I recommend using this malt out in an old-fashioned.
The Hickory Wood variety is as complex and as tasty as scotch, and I also really enjoy the Honey Locust — with each product named for the types of barrels he uses as part of the distilling process. The Sugar Maple is super smooth as well, and as enjoyable neat as the Hickory Wood.
Mr. Lix still has some of his Cleveland Christmas Bourbon on hand. It has rather a lot going on in its taste contours. I personally feel this one would best be enjoyed mixed into the batter for seasonal pancakes with a kick or added to eggnog.
I’ve been writing about whiskey for several years, yet Mr. Lix, with his quality products, has upended not only all I’d believed I knew about the bourbon aging process, but about how it can be made. Here, on the shores of Lake Erie, Mr. Lix has taken such innovation to the next level.
For tours, sampling and information on where to purchase, go to ClevelandWhiskey.com.
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