It seems like a new micro-distillery is opening up every week recently and each and every one that aspires to make bourbon faces the same problem: how can you afford to pay your operating expenses for the years it takes your bourbon to age?
Some get by selling un-aged whiskey, vodka, or gin while they wait for their bourbon to mature. Some sell other people’s bourbon until theirs is ready for the market. Some age their bourbon in smaller barrels to try to speed up the process. This year Tom Lix, the man behind Cleveland Bourbon Whiskey, decided to drastically speed up the aging process by using a secretive and patented pressure cooking system to age the bourbon dramatically faster.
First the whiskey is aged in traditional oak barrels for six months so that it meets the legal definition of bourbon. Then the whiskey is put in steel vats, the barrel is chopped up and added to the mix. It then goes through agitation and pressurization to force age the bourbon over the course of a week.
It is a process that has many in the bourbon world turning up their noses, but Lix compares his bourbon to Knob Creek and challenges doubters to put Cleveland up against Knob Creek in a blind taste test. So far results have been mixed on that test, you can listen to my podcast partner Charlie and I try it ourselves on Bottom’s Up #34, but with the global demand for whiskey rising every day and many distilleries struggling to keep up the traditional way, maybe Lix is onto something.
Let’s go ahead and give it a taste and find out for ourselves.
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Age: 6 months plus one intense week
How I Drank It: Neat, in a rocks glass
My Nose Noticed: Cedar | Citrus | Acetone
First Sip: Honey | Strong Wood | Pepper | Acetone
The Burn:* Good god! This has a rough punchy aftertaste that grabs on to your throat and won’t let go. There are some barely discernable bourbon flavors, even a sweetness, that are present for just about half a second before the harsh taste of wood and a chemical burn hit you. Even several moments after swallowing the aftertaste sits on your tongue like an obnoxious party guest that just won’t leave.
Neat, Splash or Rocks: With a burn like that I though trying it over ice would have to be an improvement. I poured it over my whiskey ice ball and the ice actually made it worse. The burning was less but the ice also took with it all of the more pleasant bourbon flavors. The only thing it left behind was the wood pulp flavor. A splash of chilled water proved to be the most palatable way to drink it. That splash allowed some more delicate notes, rose and a bit more lemon flavor, to come through while taming the worst of the aftertaste. That was the first time that I thought this might be able to be used in a cocktail if nothing else.
Share With: Clevelanders so committed to buying local that they are willing to sacrifice real bourbon.
Worth The Price: At $35 a bottle, this is so not worth the price. For less than half that price you can buy a bottle of Very Old Barton and be much more satisfied.
Bottle, Bar or Bust: I think it will come as no surprise that this is a bust. Bottom line is that despite the claims of its makers, Cleveland tastes forced and very rough around the edges. Try it at a bar to appease your curiosity if you must but don’t make the mistake of buying a whole bottle. Word has it that the bottles are selling well in the Cleveland area but I am willing to bet that the biggest market for Cleveland Bourbon will end up being overseas.
*Some of you refer to this as the “finish” but let’s be honest. Don’t we all just want to know if it burns good?
PS – Pops here folks. I think Ginny really hit this one on the head folks. I tried my sample last night. It was so bad I had to pour it out after only 3 or 4 sips. I really tried to give it a chance but it was pretty bad in my book. Let’s just say there’s no cheating the time required by Mother Nature to age bourbon the right way.