The ageing process is an essential part of whisky-making. The charred oak barrel gives the liquor its caramel colour and imparts rich, subtle flavours. 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 recognised the growing demand for whisky — as did Makers Mark — and realised that the conventional method of producing whisky simply wasn't fast enough to meet that demand. But rather than water down an existing recipe, Lix invented a new method of making whisky.
“I took apart a couple of used barrels, and it didn't seem like the whisky 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 whisky 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.