Most Interesting People 2014: Tom Lix

Tom Lix


Why he's interesting: A transplant from Boston with a long entrepreneurial track record, Lix founded Cleveland Whiskey in 2009. His unique method of aging whiskey applies huge amounts of pressure to force the alcohol through the pores of barrel wood, ensuring that the spirit inherits flavors in a week instead of taking years.

Bang Up Job: Lix's career as an inventor got off to a booming start thanks to a chemistry set he got for Christmas. The 7-year-old mixed the wrong chemicals, causing an explosion. "Chemistry sets probably had lots of things in them they must not put in anymore. I remember waking up in a doctor's office."

FiRE AND ICE: At 17, Lix spent a summer fighting wildfires with the Bureau of Land Management. He hitchhiked all the way to Alaska and had to lie about his age in order to get work. He lived and worked with people of all different backgrounds, sometimes under dangerous conditions. "I also learned some amazing things, like how to make and use a sling, catch fish with my bare hands, set a snare to trap a rabbit — all things that were pretty exceptional to a kid brought up in the suburbs of New Jersey."

Whiskey History: Lix served in the Navy for six years as a machinist's mate. While operating turbines, pumps and other machinery on board, he got his first taste of liquor-making. A chief petty officer was fermenting fruit juice from the galley by tapping a sea water line for coolant and a steam line for heat. "He was making a homemade moonshine. He took me under his wing and taught me everything I needed to know."

Filling the Gap: Last year, the popular bourbon brand Maker's Mark announced that they had to dilute their whiskey to keep up with demand, causing a huge consumer backlash. Four years before that, Knob Creek had to cut off their supply for months because they simply ran out. The product sometimes takes more than a decade to go from barrel to shelf, and the basic techniques are at least 500 years old. "You can't crank up production like you can with computer parts. The demand for whiskey and the ability to produce it using traditional methods just isn't sufficient." Enter Lix's patent-pending accelerated aging process.

Liquid Courage: "We're a disruptive technology. We've been called heretics. Some say what we're doing is sacrilegious. But we embrace that. If you can use technology to make a better product, we're all for it." Lix says that during public taste tests, more than half of the samplers prefer Cleveland Whiskey's taste to established American bourbons. Despite some traditionalist naysayers, his whiskey has legs.

On The Water: The journey of the self-described "lifelong tinkerer and basement experimenter" has taken him from childhood on the East Coast to the wilds of Alaska to college at Penn State and Boston University to a business career in Boston and Cleveland. But ever since the Navy, life offshore has remained important. He's built a few small boats and helped repair larger ones, and set sail many times. "One of my ambitions ultimately is to sail across the Atlantic by myself, in a boat I built by myself."

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