There’s the traditional way to make bourbon and then there’s the Cleveland way.
The traditional way (and that’s traditional as in centuries-old) goes something like this: ferment, distil and place in a charred, American oak barrel. And wait, and wait, and wait – anywhere from two to 12 or more years.
The Cleveland way speeds things up, more than a little. Instead of waiting for years, the folks at Cleveland Whiskey move their bourbon from barrel to bottle in about a week.
Tom Lix, founder of Cleveland Whiskey, doesn’t like to get too technical about the process but it involves aging the spirits under extremely high pressure, in a stainless steel vat with pieces of barrel thrown in. But he’s happy to talk about the result – genuine, 100-proof bourbon that stands up to the premium (and traditionally aged) bourbons. In a series of blind taste tests called the Cleveland Challenge, real people have been picking the Cleveland stuff over Knob Creek (a well-known and well-loved bourbon that packs the same punch) more than half the time. Not bad for a bourbon made in days instead of years.
Clevelanders agree. The urban distillery consistently sells out of its weekly 3,000-bottle run. Bottles, which retail for $35, can be hard to come by, so we asked Lix to recommend a few spots to sip Cleveland Whiskey.
The Market Garden Brewery, a beer garden in the Ohio City neighbourhood, mixes several Cleveland Whiskey twists on traditional cocktails like the Sugar Plum Fairy, a Christmas Bourbon Manhattan with plum preserves. In nearby Tremont, Cleveland’s original hipster neighbourhood, Press Wine Bar serves wine on tap and Cleveland Whiskey too. There’s a fistful of Winking Lizard Taverns in the city, all stocked with Cleveland Whiskey (try one of three the Lizardville locations for a souvenir bottle). And, if you’ve left it to the last minute, you get a taste at the Great Lakes Brewing Company in the Cleveland Hopkins International Airport.
If you’d rather sip your bourbon where it’s born, book a Cleveland Whiskey tour. The distillery will open its facilities to the public in November 2013 – at an open house honouring its Christmas Bourbon. Regular tours will be available beginning in early 2014.
Finally, we asked Lix about the name – sure the whiskey is made here (in a downtown manufacturing incubator), but what’s so “Cleveland” about it? “People [say] the name for them [means] something that’s authentic and genuine, hardworking and entrepreneurial and- last but not least, edgy. We say that Cleveland is an attitude, not just a geography,” says Lix.
That sounds about right.
Written by Sarah Routh
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