Not only has Cleveland become a destination for foodies, with its variety of restaurants serving a variety of palates, but it also features a vibrant craft beer selection, with microbreweries popping up throughout the region.
But beer isn’t the only potent potable available in the Cleveland area. There are also distilleries popping up – including one that’s using what its founder calls “disruptive technology”.
“We’re less about being a distillery and more about the technology,” said Tom Lix, the founder and chairman of Cleveland Whiskey.
Lix gave us a tour one Friday night of the distillery, in the MAGNET business incubator on the city’s east side, a relatively short jaunt from downtown and Playhouse Square. Because it’s a business incubator, there are no signs for it outside so you have to know what you are looking for.
Cleveland Whiskey specializes in bourbon. According to U.S. law, bourbon must contain a base of at least 51 percent corn and be stored in new oak charred barrels. Lix said that a total of 5 million barrels of bourbon are aging in Kentucky (bourbon isn’t required to be made in the Bluegrass State, but a lot of it is). Typically, bourbon ages from eight to 12 years, gaining most of its taste and all of its brown color from the aging process, particularly the interaction with the wood.
“I’m not nearly that patient,” Lix said.
The distilling of Cleveland Whiskey takes place off-site, but it’s brought back and a lot of it is stored in those oak barrels on site. However, through his own experimentation, Lix found a way to age the bourbon in vacuum pressure tanks.
And by using the vacuum pressure tanks, Cleveland Whiskey eliminates the “angels’ share,” the amount that can be lost through evaporation during the aging process, as much as 2 to 3 percent per year.
Of course, like most distilleries or breweries, there’s a chance to sample the wares at Cleveland Whiskey.
We partook in the Black Reserve 100 proof, the “87,” which as its name indicates, is 87 proof (by comparison, most store-bought whiskeys are between 80 and 90 proof, which is 40-45 percent alcohol). And we tried the Christmas bourbon as well. Lix told us the 100 proof bourbon we were drinking was two days old.
Cleveland Whiskey is available in seven states, and can be purchased by the glass in local bars or by the bottle in liquor stores, and there are often tasting events throughout the area. The distillery offers tours, which can be booked by individuals, typically on every other Friday night. Group tours are also available by reservation.