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Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery

A Small Distillery Emerges in the Midwest

About.com Rating 4 Star Rating
User Rating 1 Star Rating (1 Review)


Jeff Quint, Master Distiller of Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery in Swisher, Iowa

Jeff Quint, Master Distiller of Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery in Swisher, Iowa

Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham
Finding small wineries in the Midwest is easy, a distillery is a different story. Cedar Ridge is both and it can be found in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Jeff Quint - owner, winemaker and master distiller - established Cedar Ridge in 2002 with a small vineyard. Quint has since expanded to include Iowa's first legal still (2005) since prohibition. Out of a small space Quint and his team produces Clearheart Vodka, an apple brandy, grappa and lemoncella. Considering the space in which this all happens, it is an impressive feat resulting in equally impressive spirits.

Update: As of 2009 they also produce Clearheart Gin and Rum.

Start Small and Good Things Will Come

There is no behind the scenes at Cedar Ridge's current facility, it is all in the open and showcases a shiny, copper Christian Carl pot still. Visitors to Benz Beverage Depot (in the same building) are encouraged to open the winery's door to sample any of the beverages bottled by Cedar Ridge and talk with the friendly team behind the wines and spirits. Upon leaving, one cannot help but recall the humble pride and dedication that these people have for each of the specialty products they produce.

It is not going to stop with the 12 wines and 4 spirits for Quint and Cedar Ridge. Plans are in the works to construct a much larger building in the middle of their 10-acre vineyard. This new edifice will add needed space to the winery and distillery operations, allowing for the acquisition of a larger still, higher production of the established libations and the introduction of new spirits. Quint is already considering adding a gin using Wisconsin juniper, a raspberry cordial and a few flavor-infused vodkas to his line of products. As of January, 2007, Iowans have been the only ones who could enjoy Cedar Ridge's fine beverages, but within a few months residents of Illinois and Wisconsin will see them on shelves. Beyond that Quint has a wait and see attitude as to whether his spirits will reach a broader market.

Read the story of the distillery's triumph against nature.

ClearHeart Vodka

Barrels at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery

Barrels at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery

Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

The vodka produced at Cedar Ridge is as distinctly original as the luscious St. Pepin dessert wine, which is also crafted within the walls. ClearHeart is made from neutral grain and an eclectic light apple wine. The wine, using locally grown apples, is produced in the winery specifically for the vodka's base and even though it constitutes only 10% of the distillate and most of the apple flavor is lost during distillation, it adds a dimension to the finished vodka that is subtle, yet a delicate surprise for the established palate.

Time and dedication are employed in the distillation of ClearHeart as the distiller runs the distillate through the pot still three times with only 10 gallons to show for the hard work. Following the no heads-no tails rule that marks premium, handcrafted spirits, only the heart is kept after each pass through the still. This select distillate will then go through a charcoal soak prior to returning to the still for the next run. In total the distillate spends nearly ten hours inside the boiling hot still. Before bottling on-site, the vodka runs through a carbon filtration process twice, ensuring any leftover impurities are removed; after which it is diluted, using distilled water, transforming it from the 190 proof distillate into 80 proof vodka.

Tasting Notes:
ClearHeart is like many other handcrafted, small-batch vodkas, if only for the fact that there is typically one aspect that sets it apart from other distillers' products. Here, the distinction is obviously marked by a delicate, sweet apple that can easily catch one by surprise. The apple is mysteriously unrecognizable in the clean, fresh fragrance, but slowly makes an appearance as it emerges from behind a silky bouquet that fills the palate. An equally smooth transition into the final, crisp explosion of delicate apple marks a short, refreshing finish.

Enjoy ClearHeart Vodka

Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy

Columns on the Christian Carl still at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery

Columns on the Christian Carl still at Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery

Photo Credit: © Shannon Graham

Fermented and distilled on-site, Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy is made from Iowa grown apples and is the only one produced in the state. It is aged for six months in American oak barrels that once housed the distillery's wine. The finished brandy has a nice balance of fruit and oak, making a lovely addition to any cocktail.

Tasting Notes:
A sensory experience filled with the delicate aroma of pristine apple blossoms is an inviting introduction to the thick, amber-colored brandy. The sense of sweet fruitiness increases in intensity as it rests on the palate to a full-bodied, silky texture with flowing waves of flavor that toggle between freshly picked green apples and robust, warm oak. A finish of equal veracity finds the fruitiness taken over by a surprising spicy, oak.

Enjoy Cedar Ridge Apple Brandy:

User Reviews

Reviews for this section have been closed.

 1 out of 5
Don't waste your time with the Sunday Brunch, Member Brian_J.

We’ve heard some nice comments about Cedar Ridge and decided to try the Sunday Brunch. What a mistake. First of all you are eating in basically a very large garage so don’t go for the ambiance. It might be nicer in the warm weather when they can open the garage doors. The food was over the top mediocre. A selection of dry hard scones, a very small less than appetizing selection of fruit, two kinds of dried out eggs, potatoes, sausage and bacon. The sausages were the frozen dry grey wrinkled kind that you get at really cheap hotels with the free breakfast. The potatoes were the best item. They also had a “station” that made pancakes and carved prime rib. We had heard that the prime rib was a specialty so we were anxious to try it. If you like well-done beef than this is for you. For me it was dry and over cooked. I went back three times when they brought out a new prime rib to see if they had any that were near to medium rare – they didn’t. We were very disappointed. In addition, there is a very, very limited selection of beverages. The brunch was equivalent to the Village Inn except that the Village Inn has a better selection.

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