A day before Cleveland Whiskey's March 1 debut in its home city, Inc. put it to a blind taste test not far from the magazine's Lower Manhattan offices.
Location: A private downstairs room at the Brandy Library, an elegant Tribeca watering hole for serious whiskey sippers.
Panel of tasters: Brandy Library owner Flavien Desoblin; Joel Cuellar Flores, the establishment's head spirit sommelier; and regular patron and experienced taster Jonathan Miller, a senior private client associate with Bernstein Global Wealth Management
Each taster faced four small glasses containing an ounce and a half of bourbon and a score sheet bearing boxes for comments for three categories. The tasters sniffed the whiskeys, swirled them in their mouths, spat often into silver tumblers, and resniffed and retasted for nearly half an hour. Demonstrating the individual nature of taste, each preferred a different bourbon. The lone constant: Whiskey No. 3 was last on all three scorecards, with Miller rating it just one point below his third choice.
After the tasters compared scores and notes, the bottles appeared before them in tasting order. No. 3 was Cleveland Whiskey. It had been bested by Old Forester Signature, Wild Turkey Tradition, and Knob Creek. In his comments before the bourbons were identified, Cuellar Flores presciently said this of No. 3: "It appears to be pretty young.... It's a bit rough... It feels like they pressured oak into it."
It was a tough test, the first of many to come. But the next day, Tom Lix, Cleveland Whiskey's founder, appeared on local television in Cleveland and conducted his own blind tasting. After saloon-styleswallows of bourbonsamples A and B, two TV personalities announced they preferred Bourbon B, calling it "smoother" and "richer." Lix happily announced they had chosen Cleveland Whiskey over nine-year-old Knob Creek.