On Nov. 3, the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division posted the rolling 12-month sales revenue by category and Cedar Ridge Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey is now the No. 1 selling 750-mL bourbon in Iowa.
This is a historic milestone for the Swisher, Iowa-based Cedar Ridge Distillery, as it has surpassed mass-produced Maker’s Mark & Jim Beam as top seller. In a press release, the distillery claims it has become the first craft distiller in the country to produce the No. 1 selling bourbon in any state.
“When we started Cedar Ridge, we had no idea we would ever become #1 in the state in the huge category of bourbon,” says CEO & founder Jeff Quint. “That said, we’re proud and elated to get there. It’s important to us that we be relevant and successful on our home field, first and foremost. Iowans should be exporting bourbon, not importing it!”
Head distiller Murphy Quint added, “Iowans have been in our corner ever since we first opened our doors back in 2005. Without their support, we wouldn’t even be in business, let alone the #1 selling bourbon in the state.”
For more than a decade, Cedar Ridge has been urging Iowans and fans in neighboring states to recognize the merits of its Iowa Bourbon which is made from Iowa corn grown on the family farm.
“Iowa produces more corn than any state in the country, and most distilled spirits are made from corn. Yet, before Cedar Ridge, we Iowans were importing 100% of the $350 million in distilled spirits we consume each year,” says Jeff. “We were selling $4 worth of corn to other states and then buying back $40 worth of spirits made from our own corn.”
For Cedar Ridge, this success has been building for some time. In 2018, after receiving the “Best of Category” straight bourbon award from the Los Angeles International Spirits Competition, the distillery briefly launched an award-winning SORRY KENTUCKY campaign. “It’s just meant to be playful banter,” says marketing manager Anna Servey of the campaign which takes an apologetic, matter-of-fact tone for the award-winning bourbon. “Once the goal of becoming #1 bourbon was within reach, relaunching SORRY KENTUCKY seemed like just the extra push we needed to get there.”
Now, with success in sales catching up with success in competitions, will it mark a shift in the distillery’s approach? Not according to Murphy.
“Quantity is a very important factor from a business standpoint,” he says. “We absolutely have numbers to hit and quotas we need to meet. But from a consumer’s point of view, they don’t care if we have 10 barrels or 10 million barrels. They just want the whiskey to be great.”
By reaching these milestones, Cedar Ridge has become a shining example for other craft distillers across the country. Is there a lesson here for them?
“It’s not easy and it’s not a quick process, but it is possible,” says Jeff. ”We first have to build a product of amazing quality. We then have to put it in an appealing package. We have to set it up at the right price. Then we have to create effective campaigns to attract the consumer. This all takes time and resources. But the payoff is tremendous when you get it all right.”
As more craft distilleries join the market, Cedar Ridge has proven you can generate notoriety regardless of where you’re headquartered.
“I think we’ve proven that you can build a successful whiskey brand from anywhere in the world,” says Murphy. “You can create a very traditional product in a not-so-traditional location. Right now, our success might look like a Cinderella Story simply because we were the first craft distillery to accomplish this feat. But 5-10 years from now, I wouldn’t be surprised if most states have a craft producer as their #1 selling brand.”
So now that Cedar Ridge has taken the mantle in its home state, what’s next? Setting sights on becoming Bourbon Capital of the World?
“That’s not something that’s on our mind here,” says Murphy. “I’d simply like to see the state of Iowa get recognition as one of the greatest whiskey-producing states. That’s a personal goal of mine. If you ask most whiskey consumers where their whiskey comes from, most of them will say Kentucky, Tennessee or Scotland. I’d be honored if people started to list Iowa in that conversation.”
As the most recent sales results show, Cedar Ridge Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey is one step closer to that goal. In celebration, Cedar Ridge will be hosting an on-site Open House from Nov. 12-14. There will be tours, live music, drink specials and more. Find out more on Facebook at @CedarRidgeIowa or visit crwine.com for details.