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Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Tuesday Tasting: Iowa's First Distillery Since Prohibition

Tuesday Tasting is a regular feature of Lyke2Drink that explores some of the best beers, wines and spirits on the market. This week we head to Iowa to experience a distilling revival.

The microdistilling moving is much like the microbrewery movement was in the early 1980s. There are exciting new flavors popping up in some unlikely places around the country. And, like the early craft beer pioneers, there is a real mix of people getting involved. Some are coming from the beer and wine industries. Some have significant marketing savvy. A few have enough funding to stick through the hard times and wait for commercial success. Some will survive and build brands like Sierra Nevada and Samuel Adams of the beer industry. Others will disappear, like the once popular brews New Amsterdam and Catamount.

In Iowa, Jeff Quint is busy trying to build a name for the first distillery to open in the state since Prohibition. Cedar Ridge Vineyards, Winery and Distillery is located near Cedar Rapids. They make a grappa, apple brandy, vodka and a lemoncella – not exactly a drink you would expect to find being made in the Midwest.

“The demand for the lemoncella is pretty strong. I’ll have to go to a commercial zest at some point just from a volume standpoint, but for now we buy the lemons 600 at a time and zest them by hand,” Quint says.

Quint believes that Cedar Ridge “is on the front edge of a distillery renaissance” in the U.S. He plans to focus most of his company’s efforts in the direction of distilling rather than wine making. “I think we are going to see small distilleries making local products pop up in locations across the country.”

I recently had the chance to try two of Cedar Ridge's products and came away impressed:

Cedar Ridge Lemoncella: This is a clear version of the Italian specialty made in Iowa from fresh lemons. It has a syrup-like viscosity that offers up plenty of lemon aroma. The drink arrives on your tongue with a sweet base and the balancing tartness that you would expect.

Clearheart Vodka: Made in Iowa from grain and 10 percent apples, this triple distilled 80 proof vodka is crisp with just a slight tart edge to the finish.

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