I recently wrote a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Bourbon and Banter and I also recorded a podcast where we tried Cleveland in a blind taste test against Knob Creek. But since I paid $35 for the bottle I thought I better get my money’s worth by writing a review of Cleveland Bourbon for Queen City Drinks as well because I certainly won’t be getting my money’s worth by drinking it.
Cleveland Bourbon came out earlier this year, created by Cleveland businessman Tom Lix. Frustrated by the length of time it takes to make bourbon, Lix created a process to cut the aging time down to just over six months. First they age the bourbon in a charred white oak barrel for six months so that it meets the legal requirement to be called bourbon. Then they put the whiskey into a stainless steel container along with pieces of the barrel and subject to an intense pressurization system for a week. This pressure force-ages the bourbon by pushing the whiskey rapidly in and out of the barrel, mimicking the natural process that normally takes place over years in a rack house.
Bourbon lovers have been skeptical of this product and after tasting I have to say that they have good reason for their doubts. The most notable quality of the bourbon is the burn. This has a rough punchy aftertaste that grabs on to your throat and won’t let go. There are some barely discernible bourbon flavors, even a sweetness, that are present for just about half a second before the harsh taste of wood and a chemical burn hit you. Even several moments after swallowing the aftertaste sits on your tongue like an obnoxious party guest that just won’t leave.
With a burn like that I though trying it over ice would have to be an improvement. I poured it over my whiskey ice ball and the ice actually made it worse. The burning was less but the ice also took with it all of the more pleasant bourbon flavors. The only thing it left behind was the wood pulp flavor. A splash of chilled water proved to be the most palatable way to drink it. That splash allowed some more delicate notes, rose and a bit more lemon flavor, to come through while taming the worst of the aftertaste. That was the first time that I thought this might be able to be used in a cocktail if nothing else.
Despite the fact that I have not met a single person who actually enjoys this bourbon I actually expect that they will be in business for a while. There is a growing demand for bourbon all over the world and in foreign markets where there is huge demand, limited supply, and a lack of knowledge of what good bourbon tastes like I predict that Cleveland Bourbon will find an audience. For those of you closer to home who are looking to try a new, Ohio-based bourbon I strongly recommend that you give Cleveland a pass and check out Middle West Spirit’s Michelone Reserve instead. Their wheated bourbon is a unique product that takes bourbon in an interesting direction without leaving you with an acetone aftertaste.