Distilled: Cleveland Whiskey ain’t bad

By
From the March 6, 2014 edition

All right, I admit that I have a bias when it comes to bourbon. In my not-so-humble opinion, bourbon comes from Kentucky, and only Kentucky. Everything else is whiskey. But a small distillery in Cleveland, of all places, has decided to claim they can make “bourbon” using a revolutionary — and to some a bastardized — method. I can’t complain too much about the results.

I went into my first Cleveland Whiskey (the official name, but the word “bourbon” proceeds whiskey on the bottle) experience with low expectations.

I’ve tried a lot of bourbon, and anything from outside the Bluegrass State just doesn’t match up. I spent my formative drinking years living in Lexington and getting to (intimately) know the Bourbon Trail and its products. Also, science. It’s the limestone-rich water in Kentucky that makes bourbon. And what makes bourbon great. Period.

So, why am I, a Kentucky-biased bourbon boy, accepting Cleveland Whiskey?

For starters, I respect the science behind the creation of Cleveland Whiskey. The distillery ages the liquor for six months — the legally required time for “bourbon” — then adds it to highly pressurized vats with finely chipped oak bourbon barrels to “aggressively” age it; days instead of years.

Would I prefer my bourbon to be aged for a decade or more in a barrel? F--- yes. But this process is ingenuity at its most judicious.

It also helps that Cleveland Whiskey ain’t bad, at all. Would I put it up against the best the Bluegrass State has to offer? Eff no.

But this carpet-bagging bourbon comes correct; the important characteristics bourbon is known for are present, even if the smoothness from years-long barrel-aging isn’t there.

So Cleveland makes a whiskey I can respect. I’m not ready to call it bourbon, because that’s a designation that can only come with a “y’all.” But a hat tip to Cleveland Whiskey is deserved.

Photo by Meghan Ralston