The aging process is an essential part of whiskey-making. The charred oak barrel gives the liquor its caramel color and imparts rich, subtle flavors. Problem is, this soaking step takes years to complete. But one enterprising distillery has figured out how to ripen sour mash in a fraction of the time.
Cleveland Whiskey is an upstart distillery located in, you guessed it, Cleveland, Ohio. Owner Tom Lix recognized the growing demand for whiskey—as did Makers Mark—and realized that the conventional method of producing whiskey simply wasn't fast enough to meet that demand. But rather than water down an existing recipe, Lix invented a new method of making whiskey.
“I took apart a couple of used barrels, and it didn't seem like the whiskey soaked very deep,” he told Forbes. “So I started experimenting with pressure to get the spirit to soak deeper into pore structure.”
The details behind Cleveland's proprietary system are closely-guarded company secrets but, as Lix explained, the general process is similar to the vacuum marinators you see on late-night infomercials:
The spirit ages in a whiskey barrel like normal for the first six months of its life. Then it is deposited in stainless steel tanks. Meanwhile, the barrel it aged in is cut up, processed, and put into the tank as well. Within the tank, the spirit is agitated, and undergoes a series of differences in pressure to squeeze in and out of the wood pores.
After a week in the tubs, the hyper-aged whiskey is ready for bottling. Cleveland Whiskey hopes to produce 7,000 cases this year and another 20,000 cases in 2014. Check out the Cleveland Whiskey website to see if it's served near you. [Forbes - Cleveland]