Cedar Ridge is the first distillery to open in Iowa since Prohibition.(Photo courtesy Cedar Ridge Distillery)
Cedar Ridge sources the rye for its rye whiskey from a large farm in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan. (Photo courtesy Cedar Ridge Distillery)
Cedar Ridge’s whiskey is known for its smoothness. It is often drunk neat as a result. (Photo courtesy Cedar Ridge Distillery)
The craft distillery boom shows no signs of slowing down. Between 2005 and 2016, the number of small distilleries in the U.S. increased from roughly 50 to 1315, according to Fortune magazine. As with craft beer, the trend is concentrated in a handful of states. More than a third of all craft distilleries can be found in California, New York, Washington, Colorado and Texas.
Out in Iowa, a determined family has been making quality spirits for more than a decade that rivals the best artisanal booze coming out of Brooklyn, San Francisco and Austin. Cedar Ridge Distillery, in tiny Swisher, midway between Cedar Rapids and Iowa City, has been in operation since 2005. It was founded by Jeff Quint, whose grandfather, Nicolas, made brandy in the area. Cedar Ridge is the first licensed distillery in Iowa since Prohibition, and it’s getting popular for its smooth-drinking whiskey and distinctive bourbon. Cedar Ridge’s whiskey, brandy, rum, gin and vodka are sold in 19 states.
Recently I sat down with Jeff’s son Murphy, an affable young Iowan who’s director of sales and distribution for Cedar Ridge. I was also fortunate enough to sample some of the distillery’s current line-up. More on that later.
“We’re in Swisher because we started out as a winery/distillery combination and we needed lots of land to plant vines,” Murphy said. Grapevines? Don’t scoff, Californians – certain types do quite well in Iowa. “We grew Midwestern hybrids like Edelweiss and Brianna,” Murphy said. “They’re the same varieties that grow well in upstate New York. We have to harvest a bit earlier than they do in California, and our reds tend to be more acidic than California reds.”
There was a steady but tiny market for the wine. Meanwhile, a small in-house still that produced brandy was doing quite well. “We evolved from a winery into a place that makes a lot of whiskey and a little bit of wine on the side.”
Cedar Ridge has quickly become a substantial operation. Next year, production will ramp up to 69,000 six-bottle cases, which is an impressive output for a craft distillery.