Correction: This story has been updated to reflect that not all of the distilleries in the U.S. needed to participate in the American Distillery Conference and Expo to be named "2017 Distillery of the Year."
A craft distillery in Swisher has been named Distillery of the Year by the American Distilling Institute.
"It's an incredible honor," said Jeff Quint, founder and owner of Cedar Ridge Distillery. "There's no higher award in the industry. In our 12-plus years of distilling, this is highlight No. 1, no doubt."
The American Distilling Institute gave out the award at its conference and expo in Baltimore April 4. It's the largest yearly gathering of distilleries in the country. Cedar Ridge beat out more than 1,300 craft distilleries in the country.
Founded by Quint in 2005, the distillery began producing spirits in three copper stills made in Germany. They're small, holding only 40, 100 and 200 gallons each. And the Cedar Rapids-area distillery produces only about four barrels of whiskey per day, running two shifts, though Quint says he hopes to expand to eight barrels a day.
Cedar Ridge sells more than 20,000 cases per year. It's available to 90 percent of the U.S. population in 15 states including Iowa — and also Canada and the Caribbean. It's the No. 2 seller in Iowa next to Maker's Mark.
"Later this year, we'll be shipping into Europe," Quint said.
Cedar Ridge uses only Iowa corn in making its bourbon whiskey, and that's how it's been since the beginning. "We think we (Iowa) should be exporting bourbon — not importing it."
The institute chose Cedar Ridge "for the quality of their whiskeys, their commitment to grain-to-glass production, their ongoing legislative advocacy and leadership, and their ongoing product innovation," ADI president Bill Owens said in a press release.
The ADI accepts entries only from independently owned distilleries, but not all of the more than 1,300 distilleries in operation in the U.S. needed to enter products in the tasting to win this award. This year, more than 300 distilleries entered the product for the tasting, representing 44 of the 50 states and 18 different countries. But the Distillery of the Year award is considered best overall in the country.
The submitted samples are grouped by class and type, and a panel of judges blind-tastes the whiskeys and selects them for awards in many categories for both U.S. and international spirits.
Cedar Ridge not only grows its own corn, but it also mashes, ferments, distills, ages and bottles the product.
"We're true craft," Quint said.
Jeff Quint hails from a long line of distillers and grain farmers. In the 1700s, the Quints began their first winery on the Moselle River in Germany, and it's still producing wine today. In 1881, Jeff's great-grandfather, John Quint, moved his family from Germany to eastern Iowa and continued to farm and distill.
"If you go back eight or nine generations, it's always been either wine or brandy," Jeff Quint said.
Jeff Quint is the first generation that's making the move into whiskey.
Quint credits the recent explosion in the microbrewery industry for the influx and success of craft distilleries.
"It's nice to see the craft distillery industry develop," Quint said. "At the time, we didn't even call it that. We were just a few crazy distillers going up against the behemoths."
According to the American Craft Spirits Data Project, the U.S. craft spirits market had more than $2.4 billion in retail sales, and by August 2016, more than 1,300 craft distilleries were in operation in the U.S.
Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery offers daily tours and tastings, and wine and spirits are for sale on site. It also has a full-service restaurant with a prime rib dinner on Friday nights and brunch on Sundays. The distillery also hosts weekly events, including live music, dueling pianos and murder mystery dinners.
Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery
Find it: 1441 Marak Rd NW, Swisher
Hours: Monday and Tuesday, closed; Wednesday to Friday, 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.; Saturday, 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.; Sunday brunch, 9 a.m. to 1 p.m.