US President Barack Obama tours the Cleveland Whiskey manufacturing facility with founder Tom Lix on March 18, 2015. Photo courtesy The White House. March 19, 2015 – If the “Bourbon Summit” between US President Barack Obama and Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky ever takes place,  whisky lovers will be watching to see whether the two leaders break open a bottle the President brought home from his trip to Cleveland Wednesday. Before his speech to the City Club of Cleveland, he visited Cleveland State University’s MAGNET (Manufacturing Advocacy and Growth Network) Innovation Center, which is home to Cleveland Whiskey and other small manufacturing businesses. 

“It’s always tentative until the motorcade pulls up,” Cleveland Whiskey founder Tom Lix said in a telephone interview. “We’ve had Secret Service out there for a few days, we had the dogs sniffing everything…it was interesting and a pretty intense process, but it was awesome when he got there.” Lix’s facility takes young Bourbon spirit distilled at MGP-I in Indiana and uses a proprietary process combining oxygen, pressure, and wood to give that spirit the character of a much older whiskey. Purists and critics have derided Lix’s “disruptive” process, but his whiskey is selling in eight US states with plans to add two more states this year, and will soon be exported to Germany. (Full disclosure: WhiskyCast’s Mark Gillespie scored the original version of Cleveland Whiskey a 60.)

“I love Kentucky bourbon, but apparently this gets made a lot quicker. We’ll have a taste test, and supposedly it’s pretty good. More importantly, this is an example of how a public-private partnership created an American business,” the President told reporters during a short tour of the facility. “He was very personably…he took a real interest in what we were doing, he talked with some of my staff,” Lix said. “We talked about whiskey, we talked about basketball, we talked about innovation, and that’s really why he was there.” MAGNET is home to 20 different small manufacturing companies ranging from prosthetics development to alternative energy along with Cleveland Whiskey.

While the President did not sample any of Lix’s whiskey during his visit, he did take a couple of bottles with him. The Cleveland Whiskey staff signed a bottle that Lix hopes might have a role if the “Bourbon Summit” ever takes place. “We’re not all of the same political persuasion in the distillery, but everyone signed the bottle and we called it our ‘bipartisan Bourbon’ – I talked with the President about it and said ‘you know, this might be a great bottle you could take to your meeting with Mitch McConnell if that ever happens…we’ll see,” Lix said.

If the “Bourbon Summit” does take place, McConnell will likely be able to trump the President’s whiskey with a barrel of Bourbon presented to him last month by the Kentucky Distillers Association and the Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship for use at the summit. The 42-gallon barrel was filled with a blend of Bourbons produced by KDA-member distilleries and was named the “Bourbon Barrel of Compromise.”

Links: Cleveland Whiskey | MAGNET Innovation Center | Kentucky Distillers Association | Henry Clay Center for Statesmanship