The process of making whiskey has changed little in the modern age. We use the same basic stills, then throw everything into the same oak barrels to age. And most people love it, seeing it as almost perfection. Which brings us to the point of this article. A heretic, to traditionalists in the whiskey world anyhow, named Tom Lix at Cleveland Whiskey is challenging the norm by quick aging bourbon in ever shortening time. At the time of this article Lix has his process shortened to about 24 hours.
Lix, who learned the trade long ago in the Navy, has spent the last few years working on advancing his version of the whiskey making process from his headquarters in Cleveland, Ohio. That is where he, and the others who follow his endeavor, have been inventing while blowing up the occasional mason jar along the way.
The steps Cleveland Whiskey goes through are fairly simple. The whiskey is first briefly aged in barrels just like its traditional kin. From there it goes in a much different direction. The young whiskey and the former barrel, now cut up into carefully considered chunks, are put into a pressure tank. The pressurised whiskey is driven into the wood grain, then the reverse is applied. The mix is placed in a vacuum apparatus, bringing the whiskey out of the wood. Temperature is controlled and what air is in the tanks is oxygen rich. The process is repeated until the desired taste is achieved.
All of this science, beyond being interesting, produces what Lix sees as a consistent product in less time. The consistency of the product removes the need for barrel tasting year after year, and the need to mix barrels to achieve a certain taste. You now know that the flavour will not change bottling to bottling, and batch to batch, which is something that can happen with craft whiskey.
“Ideally I want (the whisky) to have the distillate flavor profile I want, then be able to control the ageing process,” said Lix. “Then I know when it comes out of the tank it tastes exactly how I want it to.”
Cleveland Whiskey currently has two standard releases which I’ll discuss here and a new limited release which I’ll discuss in a bit. Their standard since their debut in March 2013 is a 100 proof bourbon called Black Reserve. The distillery has a normal blind tasting they do where they place their bourbon against Knob Creek. The Black Reserve reportedly wins this test 54 percent of the time, which isn’t bad considering the money and time placed in Knob Creek by those behind it.
Personally, I’m not fond of this bottle. I believe it to be a bit too tannic and it has far too much of an alcoholic burn to the taste. Even for a 100 proof.
The 87 is another of Cleveland’s offerings, which although has the same mash mix, but is lower in proof and finished slightly differently. The 87 has a milder ending to it, with a nice balance between the mash flavor and barrel. If you’re looking to see what this new tech can do, I recommend this bottle.
The artificial aging also gives a unique chance to for Lix to experiment with more kinds of wood.
Oak wood has been used for so long because it is a tried and true method for aging, but because of the artificial aging the need for these kind of barrels no longer exists.. I discussed with Lix what he was working on at the time, finding the two oddest were hickory wood and olive wood aged. (I will interject that I was allowed to taste to olive wood, and although it was different tasting, it was really good and I kinda hope it releases someday)
The current experimental whiskey, which was released at the beginning of May, is aged with cherry wood as the medium. The cherry provides a slight tartness to the mix, but smooths out the bourbon to the point even non-regular drinkers notice immediately. I’m currently working my way through a bottle of this.
Each of these three releases costs just under $40 and are not hard to track down if you’d like to try one.
I doubt this new technology will take over from the way it’s been done all these years but, it is always cool to see when someone comes up with a new way a making our favorite spirit.
I’ve always been a bit of a foodie, which translated into drinks when I turned twenty-one. A few years ago, a friend got me into top shelf whiskey and my interest snowballed from there. I still enjoy drinking Jack Daniels when the chance arrives, but my favorite whiskeys are rye...