A distillery in eastern Iowa is bottling Iowa’s first single malt whiskey this week, three years after the state legalized the commercial sale of micro-distilled spirits. Kolin Brighton, production manager of the Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher, says it takes several years for malt whiskey to age, so it’s hard for small producers to compete with large commercial operations.
“They really are investments,” Brighton says. “We have to buy the raw material, make it, buy the barrel, store the barrel, wait two to three to four or five years, pay the labor to actually get it bottled, haul it to the state warehouse in Ankeny and then pay the tax on it before we ever get a dime back.”
Cedar Ridge is among five licensed micro-distilleries in Iowa. More are springing up in other Midwestern states that grow the corn and barley needed to produce whiskey. Brighton says it’s an uphill battle to get established in the industry, especially going up against established giants.
“We don’t have a million gallons of capacity, so we’re doing things on such small scale,” Brighton says. “We buy ingredients in smaller quantities and we’re not getting some of the price breaks the big guys get.”
He says state taxes on spirits make up more than half of the retail price. The product is a single malt whiskey, which is a whiskey brewed with malted barley. If it were made in Ireland, it would be called scotch.