I’ve been excited to do a review on a Cleveland Whiskey product for a while now, mostly due to their unique pressure-aging process. This technology, innovated by Tom Lix, tries to control one of the most expensive aspects of making a whiskey: time. Specifically, they aim to reduce the amount of time it takes to crank out a decent spirit. As they say, though, the proof is in the pour…
Located in an advanced manufacturing process incubator alongside several other projects, Cleveland Whiskey could be considered more of a technology company than a distillery. Founded in 2009 by Tom Lix, they use a proprietary process they call “pressure-aging” to accelerate the process to make whiskey. We’ll deep-dive into the specifics of this process when we talk about the creation of the spirit in the Product section.
While they have a much more extensive product line now, their first whiskey was The Eighty-Seven. (As a Clevelander at the time, I remember being excited to get my hands on a bottle to taste this unique process.) Their products now have a wide range of flavor profiles using various types of wood (Black Cherry, Walnut, and Sugar Maple) to pressure-age their whiskey.
- Learn More: What Is Bourbon Whiskey?
First, a small overview of barrel aging:
The point of leaving spirits in a barrel for a long period of time is to encourage interaction between the liquid and the wood. As the wood expands during the warm daytime, it allows some liquid into the structures within the grain. Then at night, the barrel contracts, pushing that liquid back out. That process allows the liquid to break down some of the components in the wood, extracting the flavor. This usually occurs over a few years, with a longer barrel aging typically resulting in stronger flavors.
The folks at Cleveland Whiskey do things a bit differently, though; aiming to achieve the same mechanical process in a much shorter period of time.
The “heart and soul” of Cleveland Whisky are their reactors, which they’ve nicknamed R2D2s. In this video, Brandon, the distillery manager, walks you through this unique process. At a high level, they first take a whiskey that has been aging in a barrel and empty it into one of their trusty droids (I hope it let’s out a “beep-bee-bee-boop-bee-doo-weep” noise, as an R2D2 should). That barrel then is chopped into smaller pieces, and also placed into the reactor. The reactor uses temperature and pressure to artificially push and pull the whiskey deep in the wood chunks, accelerating the aging process.
The mash bill for the Eighty-Seven is 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley. According to the label on the bottle, it is “aged a minimum of one (1) minute”, and then run through a 24-hour pressure-aged finishing process.
This is packaged in a common bottle for spirits: a straight walled cylinder, rounded shoulder, long neck, and topped with a synthetic stopper. The label is relatively simplistic, with the word “CLEVELAND” printed vertically along the majority of the bottle. The small label at the bottom of the bottle gives you all of the specifics, the type of spirit, the name of the product, and the proof.
Most of the bottle is clear glass, showing off the light straw color of the spirit. The only other color that this present is the orange wrapper at the top, and background color of the label. Overall, I think it works well together. The block athletic looking font and the orange give a strong nod to the Browns, so it works well for something named after the city… even if the ’87 Browns will always be remembered for the heartbreak that is “The Fumble”.
The first thing I notice with this spirit is the color. It is significantly lighter than any other whiskey I can think of, reminding me more of a barrel aged gin than a whiskey. This is probably due to the aging process and the fact that while flavor is imparted on the spirit during the pressure-aging process, the color does not come across as much.
The first aroma that I pick up is a strong alcohol scent. Under that first layer, you start to pick up woody notes — not hardwood, though… more like the smell when you rip a piece of plywood. There are more faint sweeter notes as well, such as fig and cinnamon chewing gum.
The first sip is initially pleasant. There are flavors of caramel, fig, and cinnamon. But as a quick follow-up there is a slight alcohol burn in the middle, followed by a vanilla finish. It’s not necessarily unpleasant, but there is nothing exciting either.
The ice negates any aroma that the spirit has, there is absolutely no nose on the rocks. It’s like smelling a glass of ice water.
That said, I rather like sipping this on ice. The elimination of the scent doesn’t mean we also lost all the flavor. The burn is all but gone, leaving a smoother whiskey that tastes like something with a much higher rye content. The caramel, fig, and cinnamon are still there, but there is no longer a sweet finish. Instead, it is replaced with a rich black pepper kick.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Personally, I like an old fashioned that has a lot of flavor, with some balance. Unfortunately, this old fashioned has nearly zero flavor… at least, none from the whiskey. It’s like drinking a glass of watered down bitters.
I was hoping for a lot more here. In fact, I assumed that the black pepper spice in the whiskey would provide some flavor after tasting it on ice.
I am not normally one to support alcohol waste… but this cocktail was poured down the drain.
After the old fashioned debacle, I was not expecting much – and I was not wrong.
Once again, the flavor of the whiskey itself is nowhere to be found. The whiskey completely lost to the ginger beer. In fact, I could have taken a sip of straight ginger beer and it would have been difficult to tell the difference.
I love the story and ingenuity of Cleveland Whiskey. It’s a completely new process to make whiskey — taking a process that normally requires years of waiting and condensing it down to 24 hours. If they continue to refine the process and create an end product that is consistent in all forms (neat, rocks, and cocktails), Lix and team may be able to revolutionize the industry.
That said, they still have a long way to go. This product has a heavy alcohol aroma when taken neat, a mild flavor on the rocks, and might as well not be part of a cocktail.
|Cleveland Whiskey The Eighty Seven Bourbon Whiskey|
Produced By: Cleveland WhiskeyProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 43.5% ABV
Price: $28.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating: 1/5
They’ve tried to make the whiskey aging process jump to light speed, unfortunately their R2D2 unit is not quite ready.