Instead of a cocktail, I had a tasting flight of whiskeys from Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher, Iowa. They are, from left, bourbon, rye and a single malt whiskey. Each is based on a different grain--corn, rye or barley--yielding different tastes that would be pretty much smothered in a cocktail.
Murphy Quint, who ordered the flight, suggested I drink the whiskeys neat. Quint is Cedar Ridge's director of sales and distribution. His parents opened the distillery in 2005, and he started working there at the age of 14.
Cedar Ridge's Iowa bourbon is truly farm to table--made from corn grown on distillery property. This isn't sweet corn but feed corn, hard enough to grind into the powder used in processing. Barley and rye for the other two come from Canada, because they don't grow in Iowa.
Quint shuffled the glasses that I had photographed as if he were playing a shell game. This was to achieve proper tasting order--first bourbon, then the single malt and finally rye, because, he said, it is the "most aggressive" of the three.
The rye (above) was deeper in color because it came from more heavily charred oak barrels--char no. 3, if you want to get technical. It tasted sweet to me because the heavy char created some caramelization, Quint said.
Perhaps when you're puzzled about what wine to match with food, whiskey is the way to go, because all three worked with this food, which included a Caesar salad and a bowl of potatoes mashed with poblano chiles.
But guess what, Cedar Ridge makes wine too--from hybrid varietals such as Brianna (white) and Marquette (red).
"The original plan was to be a winery that happened to have a still," Quint said. The still quickly took over, and Cedar Ridge whiskeys are now in 19 states. The wines, on the other hand, are only in two counties in the state of Iowa.
I drank judiciously, because I was dealing with higher alcohol than with wine. The Cedar Ridge bourbon and single malt are 80 proof. The rye is 86 proof.
Quint drank bourbon, because that is what Iowans prefer, while California is "a really hot rye market," he said.
Cedar Ridge has a couple of unique spirits. One is a whiskey made from white wheat and the other is a malted rye. The malted rye has a "biscuity" flavor profile, he said, while non-malted rye is more "toasty."
It has also been named one of the best craft distilleries in the country--for rum. Made from sugar cane molasses, this is a dark rum, aged in used bourbon barrels. You can only get it in Iowa and Minnesota.
There's even more from this versatile distillery--fruit brandies. The barrels from the brandy, rum and wine come in handy as finishing casks for the single malt, the only whiskey treated that way. "It's a pretty out-there process," Quint said.
The three whiskeys are the only products in California. They are softer whiskeys, designed to be "more approachable," he said, and not overpowering. This makes them pleasant to drink neat.
Read more about Cedar Ridge and its products by clicking here. Or drop by Commissary to try out the three whiskeys in person.
Commissary, 2nd floor of the Line Hotel, 3515 Wilshire Blvd., Los Angeles, CA 90010 (in Koreatown).