I had an interesting meeting yesterday with a marketing manager about a product I first heard about nearly two years ago. Whisk(e)y. Whisk(e)y being made in Cleveland. Whisk(e)y being made in Cleveland that isn’t aged in barrels. Whisk(e)y being made in Cleveland that isn’t aged in barrels but is being forced matured through a patent pending process of temperature and pressure change. It’s called… wait for it… Cleveland Whiskey. When this hits the market it’s going to cause a stir. The purists will rise up and there will be lamentations. Owner Tom Lix will be branded a heretic.
Tom’s an interesting guy. His distilling background stems from time spent in the Navy making ‘pruno’ (Google it) and running it through a still inspired by the TV show M.A.S.H. Perhaps not quite the pedigree of say Booker Noe, but Tom’s business background in consulting (Guinness, PepsiCo, Burger King, Harrah’s Entertainment, Inter Continental Hotel Group) is impressive and leads me to believe he might know a bit about business. Armed with a grant or two, the blessing of the American Distilling Institute, and entrepreneurial fearlessness, he’s poised to change the financial landscape of whisk(e)y production. Imagine if he is able to get good, or perhaps great whisk(e)y to market five or ten times quicker than his competitors.
Innovation. We like to applaud it. But boy we don’t like people to screw with the things we love. Guess what, winemakers, distillers, and brewmasters have been finding ‘shortcuts’ for hundreds of years to get product to market quicker, to lower cost of goods, and to dodge the tax man. News flash – making booze is business. Nothing affects what’s in the bottle more than business climate and technology. Irish stills are giant because distillers at one time were taxed on the number of stills owned, the column still, when introduced in the early 1800’s, erased hundreds of man hours of labor, and Makers Mark released their first new product in fifty years utilizing wooden staves swimming in their barrels to accelerate maturation. Each of these innovations changed the product in the bottle and ensured better profits for operators. Cleveland Whiskey is simply following what business rule number one has dictated since the dawn of time – be profitable.
To the purists who are sharpening their pitchforks and gathering with lit torches, remember, the Great Drought of 2012 is going to spike corn prices and cause whisk(e)y prices to rise. We may find that Tom Lix isn’t a heretic, but a savior.
Cleveland Whiskey LLC hopes to have product to market fall of 2012. visit their website at http://www.clevelandwhiskey.com