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Pocket-Sized Review: Cedar Ridge Single Barrel Bourbon - An Examination of Iowa Corn's Influence in Whiskey


Pocket-sized review: Cedar Ridge Bourbon

Cedar Ridge has long been on my list to taste, but busy has been my palate with a thousand other whiskeys... until now. The sweet wordsmith behind this sample, who goes by Jes Smyth, has shared two ounces of Iowa-grown and distilled liquid sunshine for me to explore, and for that, I am grateful!


Cedar Ridge Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey Single Barrel Binny's Review
Photo courtesy of @GigglesNSips

In my latest efforts to explore much more than just the big six Kentucky distilleries, I find myself drawn towards craft distillers that are doing things right. That takes many forms, but in the case of Cedar Ridge, there's a family that goes by the surname Quint who has been quietly crafting some sensational Iowa whiskey since 2005. Cedar Ridge describes their process on their website, saying:


Managing every step of production, from grain to glass, is how you craft authentic whiskey. Our process is unique, affected by our specific location and even weather. You won’t find the Cedar Ridge taste anywhere else in the world. Below is an overview of what goes into making each sip special.
We store and mill our corn and grain on-site from corn that is grown on our own family farm in Winthrop, Iowa. Lautering our mash separates the liquid wort and spent grain. The wort is then fermented and distilled, while the spent grain is hauled off as animal feed for local farmers. Twice distilling our whiskeys to a higher proof, and removing the impurities results in a cleaner, more approachable sipping whiskey. Allowing nature to be our ultimate guide in aging, we transfer the whiskey to barrels, and store them in non-temperature controlled rick houses. Iowa’s consistently inconsistent weather aids in the expansion and contraction of the barrels, allowing the whiskey to take on the rich aromas and flavors more quickly than in other regions. This being said, Mother Nature takes her cut – at a rate of 18% vs. the industry standard of 12%.

With local grain sourcing and Iowa terroir effects running through the whiskey, I'm excited to see how this might be differentiated from some of my other favorite craft distillers. You may have seen one of their more popular releases, the Quintessential 'Portside' American single malt, that was making the rounds in whiskey circles near and far. Perhaps I'll get to that next, but for now I am glad to be able to find out what their bourbon tastes like, which I'm sure you are also interested in. In that case, let's get to work!


 

Company on Label: Cedar Ridge

Whiskey Type: Bourbon

Mash Bill Percentages: 74% corn, 14% malted rye, and 12% 2-row malted barley

Proof: 118.3°

Age: 3 years

Further identification: This is single barrel 17-634 selected by Binny's of Illinois


 

Nose: Buttered biscuits and old-timey caramel greet the nose upon first raising the glass. I'm immediately impressed by how much of a distinct character this has to it, finding what feels like a high rye content in the mash bill. It's dusty with plenty of pleasant, mature oak tones... Surely that age statement on the front of the bottle is wrong? Raspberry tones swing in like the coming of a looming rain storm; I could feel it in my bones. Lemongrass builds in intensity with time as I find myself vaguely nostalgic over the smell of sweet, sugary Fruit Loops cereal. It's very funky in a lighthearted, playful way. I'm still dumbfounded about how well-aged and well-integrated this is.


Returning my nose to the glass after a sip makes me smell... Willett rye?! It is faint, but a distinct parallel that my mind just drew and thoroughly enjoyed. Lemon frosting, spring florals, and layers of sweet cinnamon can all be discovered on long inhales. Late in the glass, sea salt, white chocolate, and red velvet cake dance in the nose. Overall, this is a savor-worthy experience I find myself wishing will never end as I float down a sweet raspberry river. The empty glass smells of funky Al Fakher hookah tobacco, cedar floorboards, and sun-warmed pine cones, all decadent and soft aromas.


Palate: My first sip is a delectable treat of a lemon lollipop, the sweet reward waiting in the otherwise stale air of an old bank I was dragged into in the 1990s. Another sip and swish offers a wonderful balance between sweet and spice as an entire basket of fruit spills across the tongue. Plum, macerated red grape, cinnamon, blackberry, and red velvet cake all do a happy little dance in the mouth. There's a lovely oily mouthfeel and a sugar cookie flavor that distinctly reminds me of Irish whiskey on the linger. Sipping near the bottom of the glass offers thick, viscous sweet cream with espresso undertones. My last taste is a bittersweet departure hallmarked by sweet caramel and delicate balance, just like the nose opened with. The linger is on the shorter end, with buttered biscuit notes sitting in pure post-dinner comfort. It gives a lofty, rising feeling, like a whispered promise of good things to come.


TL;DR: Damn good craft whiskey that punches way above its age statement


 

Rating: 4/5


With all this nuance and excitement, I can't help but admit that this is a thoroughly impressive whiskey. Some of that clearly has to do with the care that has gone into distillation and aging parameters, but there has got to be something to be said about that local corn too. I was so impressed that I may have begged Jes to send me her backup bottle, a wild request, which she thankfully obliged. What's also impressive is Jes' skill as an author of emotional fiction. In her debut novel, Time For Once, I was pleased to learn that the winery-turned-distillery that is featured in the final chapter was inspired by a visit to Cedar Ridge. On page 305, Jes writes:


He rounded the corner and the red barn came into view, a sore thumb atop a hill out of place among the otherwise flat terrain. Jolie popped her head out the open window and shouted into the wind, "What is this place?" Jace turned onto the winding gravel path. "It's a winery. They also distill their own gin, vodka, and eventually whiskey." The sound of crunching rocks spilled through the open windows as they ascended the hill in a trail of dust. "Wine made in Iowa." She scrunched her nose and, once he had parked, stepped out of the car. "Is it good?"

While I can't speak to the quality of the wine, the eventual whiskey has turned out just great.



With the recent news that Murphy Quint is taking over the role of master distiller from his dad, Jeff, Cedar Ridge is undoubtedly set up for a bright future. I look forward to tasting more from this distinguished craft distillery.

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