Class: Iowa Malted Rye Whiskey
Reviewer: Andrew Owen
Cedar Ridge Distillery, in the tiny farming community of Swisher, Iowa became Iowa's first licensed distillery since Prohibition when it was founded by local Iowan and winemaker Jeff Quint in 2005. Cedar Ridge originally started as, and still is, a winery in addition to distillery. According to Quint, he found it odd that Iowa is the number one corn producing state in America, yet no one in the state made bourbon (which is of course predominantly corn). Quint started distilling on a custom 80 gallon pot still in 2005, and launched Cedar Ridge Iowa Bourbon Whiskey in 2010. Whiskey production has since expanded to include single malt, wheat, and malted rye whiskeys. Cedar Ridge also distills gin, vodka, brandy, and rum. Since it's inception, Cedar Ridge has gained some notoriety among the craft distilling movement, winning Craft Distillery of the Year in 2017 by the American Distilling Institute, among other accolades. In November of 2017, Cedar Ridge announced a $2 million expansion to its distillery and rick houses to effectively double its current production capacities.
Cedar Ridge sources all of its grain as locally as possible from surrounding farms, and ages all of its whiskey onsite in non-temperature controlled rick houses. Given the relative youth of this distillery, most of its whiskeys are quite young, however, older bottlings like the 5 year Reserve Bourbon have started to become more available as this distillery continues to grow up. Aging whiskey in the maddeningly inconsistent (believe me, this writer knows) Iowa climate does cause a relatively quicker maturation of aging spirit, as extreme changes in temperature and humidity cause a relatively accelerated rate of oak and spirit interaction.
Utilizing the rare feature of being both a winery and distillery, and having several aged spirits in production, Cedar Ridge integrates different cask types with regularity. You can find single malt whiskey aged in wine, rum, and ex-bourbon casks, single barrel bourbons aged in port casks, single barrel rye aged in rum casks, rum aged in bourbon casks, etc.
Of course, being a proud home-grown Iowan, I monitor the happenings of the Cedar Ridge Distillery with regularity. My wife and I have made a couple short trips to the estate, and I'd be lying if I said it didn't have a special place in my heart. While I have my concerns over the craft distilling industry in general, its hard not to root for these guys. Nevertheless, a whiskey bottle is judged by what's inside it, not what's on the label or who its made by. So lets see how this unique malted rye whiskey fares.
- Mashbill of 51% malted rye, 34% unmalted rye, 12% corn, and 3% malted barley
- No Age Statement
- Distilled, aged, and bottled by Cedar Ridge
- 43% ABV
Nose: An initial blast of bright, twangy, assertive pine atop of cushion of malted vanilla cream. As it opens up, anise, mint and hints of cinnamon appear. If pine-flavored ice cream was a thing, it smells like this. Under the bright rye notes, there’s some toasted grain – like freshly baked bread, some white pepper and something alittle soapy. Great balance and integration of flavors.
Palate: Initial entry flavors of soft grain persist only for a moment before being overwhelmed by sharp, juicy pine, green tree sap, malted vanilla ice cream, clove, and anise (licorice). Some light, not-too-astringent wood creeps in near the end. Light, silky body that leaves the mouth coated.
Finish: Malted vanilla, a hint of fruit – tart cherries, some cinnamon and oak. Long.
Buying Recommendation: Well worth buying a pour. Like its unique mash bill, this whiskey is a bit of an enigma to me. For a 4-ish year old whiskey, it contains a crazy amount of complexity and cohesiveness of flavors. The quality of its craftsmanship is apparent. The only betrayal of its youth is the sharp pine notes that permeate the nose and palate, but contrary to most other young ryes I try, these notes are kept in balance by the plethora of other flavors.
If you like those common rye flavors of pine and licorice, this whiskey will score higher for you than it does for me. That said, this is still a whiskey I usually keep in my cabinet and, when the odd mood hits, I quite enjoy it when I pour it. At around $35 here in Iowa, its not a stellar value, but no craft whiskey is. Still, it has my recommendation that you all seek out a pour of this if for nothing else than to experience its unique flavor profile. If you resonate with the flavor notes I listed, skip the single pour and go get yourself a bottle.
The Rating Scale
At WBSE we use a true 100 point scale for scoring to allow whiskeys to further differentiate themselves (as opposed to a letter grade scale where 90% of whiskeys fall between 78-92). This allows you to more easily compare scores between different whiskeys. Here is how the scale breaks down:
1-49: Varying degrees of bad
60-69: Better than average
90+: truly exceptional
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