Meet Tom Lix, founder of Cleveland Whiskey
, located in the MAGNET
offices on E. 25th Street. The company has six full-time and six part-time employees.
What made you think Cleveland was an ideal place to make whiskey?
In many ways it was an accidental discovery. I moved to Cleveland from Boston about seven years ago to take care of my ailing mother. At the time I thought it was a temporary move. But my wife and I both fell in love with Cleveland and we’ve made it our permanent home. It’s such a great city for entrepreneurship, with tremendous resources, wonderful people and simply a great environment.
Cleveland is also an attitude. It stands for something that is authentic and genuine, hardworking and entrepreneurial and – something we learned from doing over 600 interviews around the country – Cleveland also stands for something that is “edgy.” So here we are, Cleveland Whiskey.
You describe your process as “radically different.” What makes it so?
We don’t let our whiskey passively age in a barrel for eight, 10 or 12 years but rather use a process we call Pressure-Aging to not only accelerate the process but actually produce what we believe is a better tasting whiskey. In almost 2,800 blind taste tests that we’ve conducted against Knob Creek, a best-selling, gold medal winning Kentucky bourbon, our Cleveland Black Reserve was preferred 54.8 percent of the time (1,524 people voted for Cleveland Whiskey).
What do you consider a perfect day at the distillery?
Let’s see, every day I get to work with a team of creative, motivated and dedicated people. Every day we produce a product that we’re really proud of. Every day I get to talk with customers who are saying great things about us. And then, just about every day I get to do some quality control (that’s code for taste testing). It seems like every day is pretty much a perfect day.
If you could go back in time and give your 10-year-old self one piece of advice, what would it be?
If I was giving advice to my 10-year-old self, I might have suggested that I listen a little closer. Pay attention to what was going on around me. To think about what it all meant. Of course it’s pretty unlikely that I would have listened to that advice since I remember that at 10 years old I was pretty certain that I knew everything there was to know.
Can you share a funny or amazing entrepreneurial experience with our readers?
When I was about five years old I noticed a man in some sort of uniform – he was wearing a cap and had a knapsack of sort slung over his shoulder- walk up to a neighbor’s door and knock. When Mrs. Myers opened the door he announced, “Western Union” and handed her an envelope. After a minute or so he held out his hand and she handed him some money.
At that point I had an idea. I had a cap somewhat like his, a sack I could throw over my shoulder and I knew where my father had some business envelopes hidden away in a desk drawer.
So off I went with a sack full of envelopes. I’d knock and when someone came to the door I simply said “Western Union,” handed them the envelope (I didn’t know there was supposed to be something in the envelope) and held out my hand. At five years old I was still a cute little kid and yes, I probably smiled. They all gave me money!
I was on my way to building a small fortune. But even though in the 1950s it was okay for a little kid to walk around the block unsupervised, I wasn’t allowed to cross the street – so my territory was limited.