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Cedar Ridge Distillery: Jeff Quint, 9th Generation farmer started Cedar Ridge in 2003 with his wife Laurie. The Quint family has been in Iowa since 1881. They came from Germany where a branch of their family has run Weingut Quint since the early 1700’s. Cedar Ridge stands as the largest Craft Distiller in the state. They’re a true Grain to Glass producer, managing every step pf the process themselves. Their current production is 4 barrels per day with plans to go up to 8 barrels a day over the next couple of years.
I had lunch with Jeff in NYC the other day and we tasted through his current line of Whiskies and talked about his plans for expansion, production methodology and the elusive true meaning of the term “craft” in the Spirits world. Cedar Ridge’s plans for growth are methodical and tied to their ability to do so while maintaining consistent quality as well as being fiscally responsible. There’s also an implicit understanding that while they have a long way to go to get there, a true Craft Distillery can only be so big. It was obvious to me that Jeff’s expansion plans will always keep him firmly in the Craft world. Currently their largest seller is Bourbon which utilizes quite a bit of their estate corn. However the popularity of their single malt is on an upward trajectory and it seems that will end up as their most popular over time.

Jeff embodies the ideal of what most of us think of when the term Craft Distiller comes to mind. In addition to being quality focused he has also developed a proprietary Solera method for his Single Malt. Cedar Ridge is also a Winery and while the wines are only sold locally they impact the spirits too. The ex-wine, Port and Brandy barrels are used in rotation to age a percentage of the whiskies, adding to their unique and distinctly Cedar Ridge characteristics. Several Brandies, Rum and small batches of Vodka and Gin are also part of their varied portfolio.

I tasted four of their current Whiskies and while I found the Bourbon and Rye enjoyable and well-made it was the Single Malt and Wheat Whiskey that really made me stand up and take notice. My thoughts on them follow.

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey ($48)

Jeff mentioned that when creating the Solera method to make this Whiskey he took a bit of what he learned from visits to The Balvenie and Glenfiddich in Scottland. He was specifically influenced by Balvenie’s Double Wood and Glenfiddich’s 15 Year old Scotch. From great influence often comes delicious results and that’s the case here. This is produced from 100% Malted Barley. There are an abundance of fruit notes on the nose underscored by wisps of vanilla and spice. Toasted pecans, dried cherries and hints of dark chocolate are all evident on the layered palate. The impressively long finish shows off white pepper, chicory and a hint of heat. This Single Malt from Cedar Ridge is of exceptional quality. It’s complex and simply delicious; sip it neat.

Cedar Ridge Wheat Whiskey ($42)

This offering is produced from 100% Malted White Wheat. Aging took place in barrels with a lighter toast level than average for less impact on this more delicate Whiskey. From the first whiff to the very last sip this is a truly fascinating selection. The nose is fresh, nutty, somewhat floral and just really appealing. Taking an initial sip Grape Nuts cereal came to mind. Oodles of other references to cereal are apparent on really tasty palate that has an inherent lightness on the tongue coupled with elegant depth. Tiny bits of spice are evident on the finish as well as wisps of hazelnut and tangerine rind. You could certainly make some delicious cocktails with this, but I’m inclined to drink it neat and enjoy all of the unique aromas and flavors it offers.

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