Raise your glasses, Iowa whiskey lovers.
Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher won “Best American Craft Whiskey in Show” and two double gold awards Aug. 24-25 at the New York World Wine & Spirits Competition.
About 700 wines and spirits from around the world competed for awards at this year’s competition.
Up against at least 50 other whiskeys, Cedar Ridge’s Single Malt “stood out,” said founder and head judge of the competition, Anthony Dias Blue.
“What you’re looking for in a good single malt whiskey is character, refinement and depth,” Blue said.
Cedar Ridge’s Single Malt hit all the marks.
“It’s a very good product that stood up very nicely against products all over the country and even the world,” he said. “I think they’re definitely up there with the best.”
“We’ve never received an award of this magnitude,” said Jeff Quint, owner and founder of Cedar Ridge. “This really sets us up to compete well throughout North America.”
In addition to the “Best American Craft Whiskey in Show” award — of which only one was given at the competition — Cedar Ridge received two double gold medals, one for the Single Malt and the other for its Reserve Bourbon.
In the past couple years, Cedar Ridge has been working on expanding its whiskey production to create a “flagship product,” Quint said.
“We’re here in the grain belt, in a state that produces more grain than most countries, yet we are net importers of whiskey,” Quint said. “I felt like we should be exporters, not importers. The economic impact of turning Iowa into an exporter instead of an importer would be profound. ... We’re developing an industry that, in my opinion, is natural for the state.”
This year, they decided to start participating in international competitions with a goal of winning four gold medals.
So far they’ve won 10, and Quint bets they’ll win at least a few more this year.
“The product we’re making is heads and shoulders above what we made a decade ago,” he said. “That’s really why we decided to get into competitions this year. We knew we had good stuff so we decided to take it to the fair and see how it performed.”
So far, the Single Malt has “won nothing but golds,” Quint said.
All of Cedar Ridge’s “grain to glass” whiskeys are made with family corn grown in Winthrop. Cedar Ridge grows its own corn, mills it, ferments it, distills it twice and puts it in a barrel for two to three years — five years for their Reserve Bourbon — and bottle it.
Before the Single Malt whiskey is bottled, it rests in two separate cast environments before being combined in a large oak solera vat that “combines those flavors, adds complexity and depth,” Quint said.
“A lot of people who call themselves craft are taking big shortcuts, like buying whiskey from somewhere else and calling it their own,” Quint said. “We’re not doing that.”
At this point, Cedar Ridge is turning out four barrels of whiskey a day.
“We’ve been ramping up inventory for a decade,” Quint said. “Now we have the inventory to support national distribution and so it’s time to get some national exposure and notoriety.”