Cedar Ridge might be Iowa’s first distillery since prohibition, but the Quint family has been making whisky for generations, and it shows. Established in 2005 by Jeff Quint, the family-owned distillery is only half the story. They also operate a winery producing a wide array of red, white, fruit, and sparkling wines. And even that is only part of the story because the distillery also produces a full selection of whiskies and makes rum, vodka, gin, and brandy. Quality, award-winning spirits are quickly becoming a way of life barely imagined 17 short years ago.
Proving their “family” ideology is Head Distiller and Director of Operations Murphy Quint. Starting at the tender age of 15, he learned every aspect of the winery and distillery operations. In 2011, he went to work for Colorado’s Stranahan Distillery, where he learned industry-leading distillation techniques. Three years later, he brought those skills back to Cedar Ridge, and the results were undisputable- You can’t argue with success.
As a writer, editor, and critic, I’m exposed to many quality wines and spirits, to the point that I don’t usually get “excited” by new products. I like them, but I don’t usually gush. Well, Cedar Ridge’s Quintessential American Single Malt Whiskey set me up and knocked me over like a bowling pin! You could knock me over with a feather! It blew me away like a leaf in a windstorm! (enough with the cliches and exclamations, already!). I will sum it up this way- OH.MY. G*D!!! (Okay, a few more exclamation points)!
It’s been a while since I found a whiskey I’m crazy about, and this is one. Sadly, it’s not available near me, causing me to panic. I don’t know how I’ll live without it- it’s that good. From a visual standpoint, the bottle looks like a high-end whisky. Poured into the glass, the juice is pale amber- typical for a barrel-aged whiskey but not with obvious colorants. The nose is immediately captivating with intense aromas of molten milk chocolate and spice-roasted pecans. Swirling releases backing notes of candied ginger, marzipan, stewed prunes, carrot cake, hazelnuts, and allspice. I find myself returning to sniff the glass long after the whiskey is gone!
The mouthfeel is mildly astringent and slightly thin, with moderate heat lingering long past the swallow. The initial flavors explode with spice- ginger, cinnamon, anise, and nutmeg leading the charge, followed by baked fruit and cookies, but not sweet. It reminds me of Italian biscotti.
The finish is warm and smooth, with lingering notes of milk chocolate, malted milk, toasted walnuts, fruit jam, and, eventually, hints of leather and oak. It’s a complex and refined whiskey that leans in heavily on spice and chocolate but exhibits some fruitiness. It’s a spectacularly good dram and firmly ensconced as my current favorite American Single Malt whiskey, ranking alongside my favorite Scotch.
*** There’s a critical note regarding this whiskey that bears consideration. To achieve the overall flavor, Cedar Ridge matures the single malt in various ex-fill casks, including bourbon, sherry, rum, brandy, and a variety of wines, which are then blended in a solera. Each bottling is sourced using half of the filled solera so that each batch will be slightly different from the next and the prior. The sample I received is from Batch 10.