There is a lot of great bourbon coming out of Iowa, the corn capital of the United States.

But these days, bourbon is not the only game in town. While the Quint family has been at the forefront of this Hawkeye bourbon movement since 2005, Cedar Ridge Distillery has branched out by producing a variety of whiskeys and a host of unique collaborations, including one with Michael Shawn “Clown” Crahan from the metal band, Slipknot. But Cedar Ridge’s hottest expression right now is QuintEssential American Single Malt, classic pot-distilled malt barley finished in an elaborate variety of casks married in a solera vatting system. To show you how the process works, master distiller and blender Murphy Quint walks us through.

Photos by John McCarthy

Fermentation and Distillation

QuintEssential begins with yeast, local water, and 100% malted 2-row barley sourced from Prairie Malt Facility in Saskatchewan, Canada. After a five-day fermentation, the distiller’s beer, also called wort or wash, is at about 9-10 percent ABV and ready to enter the still.

The first distillation is produced in an 800-gallon “alpha” copper pot still. These “low wines” come off the still around 45-50 percent ABV before transferring to a 200-gallon copper pot for a second distillation. After this run, the distillate, called “white dog,” comes off the still around 70-74 percent ABV (140-148 proof).

The Rickhouse at Cedar Ridge

Maturation and Finishing

Before entering the barrel, the juice is diluted with water through reverse osmosis from about 72 ABV to 60 ABV. Cedar Ridge’s single malt ages three years in ex-bourbon casks, a common practice in Scotch whisky production. After aging, the whiskey is transferred to various finishing casks for an additional two years. Rum, brandy, sherry, wine, port, peat, and rye are all in the mix, creating an enormous palate of flavors Quint uses to build the final product.

Cedar Ridge's Murphy Quint with his Solera vats

Blending and Bottling

From here, Quint strategically marries the expressions together in a pair of 1,100-gallon “solera” vats, called tuns in Scotland, made of toasted oak. These vats were initially filled around nine years ago, creating what Quint calls the “mother batch.” Ever since, Quint has utilized half the liquid to create a bottling, then fills it up again. The liquid inside is constantly evolving. Every batch will be a little different, but the DNA of the whiskey is always the same. This is a solera system.

The recipe is loose, but generally speaking Quint leans on sherry, port, red wine, and Madeira finished single malt to add richness, sweetness, and viscosity to the final blend. Rye, peat, brandy, rum, and white wine wood contribute layers of complex flavors. Quintessential is ultimately bottled at 92 proof.

Murphy Quint admires his work.

How Does It Taste?

So delicious that it took home Best American Single Malt at the Spring 2021 Barleycorn International Spirits Competition. Our experts noted a chocolate and spice nose followed by a silky balance of fruit and nut flavors, capped with a wisp of peat smoke that carries through to the long and peppery finish.

Buy QuintEssential Here

John McCarthy is a spirit, travel, and lifestyle journalist, managing editor, and author of The Modern Gentleman and Whiskey Rebels: The Dreamers, Visionaries & Badasses Who Are Revolutionizing American Whiskey. McCarthy is also editor of Barleycorn Drinks and Director of Judging of the John Barleycorn Awards.