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Micro-distilleries find a niche in Iowa

The brewers at the Cedar Ridge Distillery are bottling and packaging a whiskey brewed with malted barley… if it were made in Scotland, you’d call it scotch.

They say it’s the first single-malt whiskey produced in Iowa.  

Selling micro-distilled spirits has only been legal in Iowa for three years, and right now, there are only five licensed micro-distilleries in the state. Production manager Kolin Brighton says it’s difficult for a small distillery to compete with large commercial operations, especially when state taxes on spirits make up more than half of the retail price.

“We don’t have a million gallons of capacity, so we’re doing things on such small scale, we buy ingredients in smaller quantities, and we’re not getting some of the price breaks the big guys get.”

He says a malt whiskey has to age four to five years. That means a delay on the return on investment, and a gamble on what Iowans will want to drink in five years.

“They really are investments. We have to buy the raw material, make it, buy the barrel, store the barrel, before we even get a dime back,” Brighton said.

He says ore micro-distilleries are springing up in other Midwestern states that grow the corn and barley needed to produce whiskey.