A couple of months ago, we posted our review of Cleveland Whiskey – The Eighty Seven. Cleveland Whiskey uses a unique pressure-aging process that allows them to mature a batch of whiskey in just 24 hours (rather than years). This technology not only allows them to control, and cut down on, the amount of time needed to age a whiskey, but also allows them to use unique wood varieties to infuse new flavors into whiskey. On a recent trip back to Northeast Ohio, I picked up a bottle from their Uncommon Barrel Collection.
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. (More on that in the Product section below).
While they have a much more extensive product line now, their first whiskey was the aforementioned 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: they aim 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, 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.
For this specific bottling, the whiskey starts out the exact same way as their flagship The Eighty-Seven spirit: 75% corn, 21% rye, and 4% malted barley (reportedly). This mash then is cooked, fermented, and distilled before heading into their proprietary aging process. 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.
What makes this whiskey unique in their lineup is the use of a “transformative wood” (in this case, black cherry), which is cut into chunks and placed into the R2D2 with the base whiskey. This process infuses the whiskey with the light and sweet notes from the wood, creating an end product that is unique from whiskeys aged in charred oak barrels.
This is packaged in a common bottle for spirits: a short, straight-walled cylinder with a rounded shoulder, short neck, and topped with a synthetic stopper. The label is printed on natural colored material wrapped around the center of the bottle.
The bottle is clear glass, and since the label isn’t overly obtrusive, it’s easy to see the rich amber color of the spirit inside. The font color on the label is similar to the spirit itself, and the branding here attempts to pull off a chemistry theme by using a square containing “Bc” with serious periodic table vibes. The font seems like it’s trying too hard to be edgy or maybe retro grunge 90s… but to me, it just looks like their printer was running low on ink.
Overall, it’s very nondescript. I went to the liquor store looking for this product in particular, and I struggled to find it on the shelf. It might be impossible to spot it across a bar.
The spirit has a rich amber color that you would see in most traditionally aged bottles of whiskey.
The aroma is unique, though — I’ve never smelled a whiskey that reminds me of a woodshop. It’s nearly identical to the smell of cutting a hardwood on the miter saw. Underneath that woody aroma, you get the familiar smell of whiskey aged for a short amount of time: a buttery, caramel sweetness with just a hint of vanilla.
Taking a sip, the sweetness of this whiskey really comes through. It’s like someone has turned a toffee candy into a drink. There are strong wood notes followed by a pepper finish. Overall, it’s a good tasting whiskey with a unique sweet and spicy edge.
The ice softens the nose of the spirit, reducing that distinct woodshop aroma to something closer to what you might smell from your dad’s shop bench after he’s tried (and failed) to cut a two by four in half for the last hour with a coping saw. It’s still there, but it’s attenuated significantly and is now much better suited for the spirit.
And thankfully, the flavor we saw before holds up well against the ice. The sweetness is still the most prominent flavor, tasting much more like brown sugar or light molasses. There is still a wood flavor, but it’s much more subdued now. In fact, had I not been specifically looking for that wood flavor, it might have been easy to miss. The pepper finish is still there, but it’s been cut a bit by the ice.
Cocktail (Old Fashioned)
Given that this whiskey is on the sweeter side, I purposely made this old fashioned with less sugar than normal. This turned out to be the right call, as this Old Fashioned sweet enough without it. In all honesty, this could be made with bitters and whiskey alone.
Setting aside the sweetness factor, this whiskey performs really well. The bitters and orange make themselves known, but the whiskey provides the foremost flavors in this drink. The sweet and spiciness is there, joined by the bitterness from the angostura.
This cocktail is good, but suffers from being too sweet. Unlike in the Old Fashioned, where we could compensate by eliminating additional sugar, it’s harder to cut out extra sugar here since it’s found in the ginger beer.
That said, the ginger beer does add a great pop of flavor to the already sweet and spicy whiskey. There is not much wood flavor left, but it’s not missed with the effervescence of the ginger beer. The flavors meld nicely, but I would recommend a ginger beer that is not overly sweet.
Cleveland Whiskey has a great story: doing something that completely disrupts the traditional whiskey industry. And that’s a fight that Tom Lix, CEO and Founder, deliberately picked with the industry:
“[F]or us, where we’ve applied some innovative technology and produced whiskies much more aggressively, and heaven forbid, with woods other than oak, we’ve been labeled heretics. The all too typical “traditionalist” pretty much decided in advance that we simply can’t be making good whiskey unless we make it in the same way that everyone else does. We don’t and we won’t.”Tom Lix, in a 2019 interview
I closed my review of The Eighty-Seven saying that if they continue to refine the process and create an end product that is consistent from neat to cocktails, Lix and team may be able to revolutionize the industry. Their Uncommon Barrel Collection is proof that they are making progress as fast as they age whiskey.
|Cleveland Whiskey Underground Select Bourbon Finished with Black Cherry Wood|
Produced By: Cleveland WhiskeyProduction Location: Ohio, United States
Classification: Bourbon Whiskey
Aging: No Age Statement (NAS)
Proof: 57.5% ABV
Price: $49.99 / 750 ml
Product Website: Product Website
Overall Rating: 3/5
A unique bottle and story to share with your whiskey friends who’ve tried nearly everything.