If you, like me, are a fan of bourbon, you probably know that all bourbon is whiskey, but not all whiskey is bourbon. Not a fan of bourbon? Well, here’s a kernel of information about bourbon that’ll appeal to you, my fellow Iowans, whether you choose to imbibe or abstain: In order to be considered bourbon, a whiskey must be made with a grain mixture that is at least 51% corn. How do you like them corncobs?
Many other amazing (but less a-maizing) characteristics distinguish bourbon from the similar spirits that haunt our liquor stores. For one thing, bourbon must be aged in a new, charred oak barrel. It must be bottled at 80 proof or higher. No flavors or colors can be added to bourbon; its amber color and variety of flavors are derived naturally, from the aging process alone. Also, it must be made in America, which is why it carries the affectionate nickname, “America’s Native Spirit.”
And no, it does not have to be made in Kentucky.
While 95% of all bourbon is made in Kentucky, 5% is made elsewhere in these United States. And with corn being one of the major ingredients of bourbon, what better place to make it (outside of Kentucky, that is) than right here in Iowa?
To the best of my knowledge, three of Iowa’s numerous distilleries currently produce and sell bourbon (among other spirits, liqueurs, and even wines). I’ve been to all three, and if you love bourbon as much as I do—or even if you don’t, since it’s not a competition—they’re all worth a visit. Like their products, their locations are unique and offer an array of touring and tasting experiences.
When I stopped by the old brick building that houses Iowa Distilling Company, in Cumming, renovations were underway and tours weren’t being scheduled—but their store was open and tastings were being offered. Some of IDC’s merchandise serves as a display of their hometown pride, and their still (their alcohol-making contraption) is also currently on display. If you’re hoping for a tour, I’d recommend calling first so you’re not disappointed if renovations haven’t been completed.
Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, in Swisher, has the distinction of being the only winery and distillery in Iowa. It was also Iowa’s first distillery since Prohibition. Cedar Ridge visitors will be treated to beautiful views of its vineyards, have an opportunity to tour the winery and distillery, and be able to partake in a complimentary tasting of wines and spirits. They’ve crafted a bourbon made of nearly 75% corn, resulting in a smoother, cleaner flavor than some other brands, as well as a “reserve” version that’s been aged for five years and is a higher proof.
In Le Claire, the aptly named Mississippi River Distilling Company has looked out over the Mighty Mississippi since 2010. MRDC is proud of the fact that they are truly a “local” distillery, using ingredients and materials grown and produced nearby in Iowa, Illinois, and Minnesota. Local artists supply the artwork in their tasting room, and the name of their bourbon (and rye) whiskey, Cody Road, is a reference to Buffalo Bill Cody, born in Le Claire in 1846. MRDC sells two varieties of bourbon, both of which can be sampled in their tasting room. Tours are offered daily, from 12 PM to 4 PM, on the hour.
And more good news for Iowa bourbon fans: Davenport’s Artisan Grain Distillery is in the process of aging their first “bottled in bond” bourbon. “Bottled in bond” means, in part, that a spirit has been aged for at least four years. It should be ready for your glass in Spring 2019, so mark your calendars.