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Cleveland Bourbon 50% ABV

Brave New World, Accelerated Aging

1 487

@VictorReview by @Victor

20th Oct 2015


Cleveland Bourbon 50% ABV
  • Nose
  • Taste
  • Finish
  • Balance
  • Overall

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  • Brand: Cleveland
  • ABV: 50%

Cleveland Distillers in Cleveland Ohio is making a very unconventional bourbon aged initially for 6 months the usual way, followed by an intensive process lasting fewer than 7 days during which the spirit is aged in a steel tank with charred oak chips added and great pressure applied. The results attempt to resemble 10 yo bourbon whiskey in a process lasting a little over 6 months. The reviewed samples from batch # 006 were from a bottle opened 1 month ago, 80% full, and compliments of Lara Supan

Nose: at first there is something lacquer or varnish-like which dominates the nose. Give the whiskey 10 minutes of air time and most, but not all, of the lacquer odour blows off and reveals a very wood-spicy and caramel-y nose. There's the usual bourbon vanilla present also. Wait for it and this is actually a very good bourbon nose. Water brings out high-pitched sweetness. Score: 22/25 points

Taste: here's where it gets really interesting. This is very crisp, and, like the nose, very oak-spicy and very wood-caramel-y. There is also some tastable bitter char here. The bitterness from char really doesn't integrate as well in this case, as it does, in, say, Wild Turkey 101. Does this taste like typical multi-year-aged conventional-process bourbon? No, not quite just like any multi-year-aged bourbon I have ever tasted. So what is different? Grain flavours. Cleveland Distillers has successfully milked the flavours from the wood, so much so, that the caramel levels and the wood spice levels are unusually and even, arguably, unnaturally high. But bourbon is not just wood flavours alone. Bourbon also incorporates into its web of flavours the taste of rye grain. The reviewed bottle is quite undeveloped in its inclusion of flavours from grain. They are there, but are understated compared to the conventionally matured bourbons. There is a lot of spice here, but it tastes like nearly all of it derives from oak, and not from rye. So what, you ask? So this doesn't exactly taste like multi-year-aged bourbon. It tastes just like it is, viz. something made by quite a different process. Next question, is it good? Yes, this is not bad at all, and no doubt there are some people who will like this profile as well as or even more than conventional bourbon. Water brings out caramel. This is good with water. Score: 21.5/25 points

Finish: stays sharp, spicy, bitter-charry, and caramel-y for a strong and long finish. Score: 22.5/25 points

Balance: I was eager to try this one. I didn't know what to expect and really didn't expect much. Cleveland Bourbon is a whole lot better than I expected it to be. Those very familiar with a lot of bourbons will be able to pick out differences in the Cleveland Bourbon product compared to the flaovur profiles of standard-technique bourbons. Is this the wave of the future? I doubt it, unless scalability makes this whiskey cheaper to produce than conventionally matured bourbon. But this is a very drinkable product. Score: 21/25 points

Sequential Score: 87/100 points

Strength: strong flavours throughout. Score: 23/25 points

Quality: very good wood flavours; not crazy about the extent of the char. Understated grain flavours. Score: 22/25 points

Variety: enough variety, but not the full complement of bourbon flavours. Score: 21/25 points

Harmony: good, but not great harmony, especially on the palate. Score: 21/25 points

Total Non-Sequential Score: 87/100 points

Comment: this is an interesting technique of whiskey age-acceleration. The products obtained are quite drinkable, but of a somewhat different style of flavours from the conventional years-long bourbon barrel aging. Will additional progress be made with experimental techniques to accelerate whisk(e)y aging? Probably so. Time will tell how effective they will be. At this point I would say that Cleveland Distillers gives a useful addition to the whiskey universe. Yes, Cleveland Bourbon is not at all bad, and a lot better than I thought it would be


Frost commented

@Victor thank you for this review and for your continual exposure of American whiskey.

About the stainless steel with charred oak chips, surely this is an unorthodox maneuver by the distiller. Not unlike Compass Box's controversies. I'm not so familiar with the intimate laws of American whiskey law production, and I understand it is highly regulated and enforced to protect the branding internationally.

Legally speaking, can it still be classified as whiskey under American law? I know here in Australia, American whiskey is received and shamefully bottled locally at 37% and sold legally, although this would be illegal over there.

8 years ago 0

Victor commented

@Frost, thanks for joining in. US laws for defining whiskey, generically speaking, are quite loose. Even "bourbon whiskey" has certain criteria which are extremely lax, such as specifying no minimum time during which the distillate must be aged in the charred new oak barrel. Jim Murray's Whisky Bible cites some legal 'bourbons' in which barrel-aged time was just days to even a few minutes. Where the US laws are strict, and very happily so, is with the legal requirements for "straight bourbon" and "straight rye" whiskey. For that reason I generally tend to be dubious of any products without the "straight" designation. If a US whiskey isn't designated "straight" it can legally even contain a small fraction of undeclared additives.

From what I've read, the Cleveland Distillery makes a conventional bourbon up to the six-months of aging point, then tweaks it with its proprietary processes, which in addition to application of pressure, may also involve a great deal of manipulation of temperature and the addition of oxygen. So this is legal "bourbon", all right, but it is not "straight bourbon", because it did not receive the legally required minimum of two years of oak-barrel aging to receive the "straight bourbon" designation.

One thing you can definitely count on in the US, though, is that it is illegal to sell whiskey which contains less than 40% ABV.

8 years ago 0

maltmate302 commented

Victor even though you've given it a high mark this sounds like one you should try a sample of before you get the full bottle. Fascinating sounding process though and I'd certainly like to try a glass.

8 years ago 0

Victor commented

@maltmate302, I am right with you there. I was delighted that a friend had been given a bottle of Cleveland Bourbon as a birthday present and that she had brought it over for a tasting we did together. I was extremely delighted to have the opportunity to sample the Cleveland Bourbon. Would I have bought a bottle of this without having tried it first? Not likely. Would I buy a bottle of it now or in the future? Possibly. It would depend on the price. I don't know the price of this one, but because this is a new distillery the price (locally) is probably 2 to 5 times the price of a decent big distillery middle-shelf bourbon product. I find it hard to justify the bigger expenditure just on the basis that a product is new and different. You, also, would do well with a sample glass, first, just for the experience of it.

8 years ago 0

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