Swisher's Cedar Ridge Distillery expansion a sign of future plans

Spirits maker is growing 'methodically and cautiously'

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An expansion of Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery will double its whiskey production, which also could be a sign of things to come for the Swisher-based company.

“We’re growing very methodically and cautiously,” Cedar Ridge owner Jeff Quint said.

The spirits maker will spend about $2 million during the next 18 to 36 months to expand its stillhouse, add more equipment and construct a new warehouse used to age its whiskey.

Expansion of the stillhouse would let Cedar Ridge increase its production from four barrels a day to eight, Quint said. Cedar Ridge also wants to boost its barrel storage from about 3,000 slots to between 7,000 and 8,000.

Most of the new spirits produced are intended to be sold outside Iowa and the United States.

“We can’t possibly sell this all in Iowa, we don’t think. ... Goal No. 1 is Iowa, goal No. 2 is the rest of the country, and goal No. 3 is outside of the country,” Quint said.

On Friday, the Iowa Economic Development Authority Board awarded Cedar Ridge $86,250 in tax credits and refunds for the expansion. In exchange, Cedar Ridge has to create six jobs that pay at least $24.32 an hour.

The expansion likely will have to be the distillery’s last on its land in Swisher, at least for whiskey production, Quint said. The company then could look a bit north, such as in the industrial parts of Cedar Rapids, for further expansion of its whiskey making facilities.

“I think that’s what you probably would see happen long term with us, is our winery stays put, maybe even some of the other things we do like rum, vodka, gin, stays put. But the whiskey operation probably can handle one more expansion here, and then it’s got to go up the road,” Quint said.

Those plans are preliminary and a few years away, he added.

Even if the whiskey-making part of the business moves, Cedar Ridge would maintain its Swisher location.

“My heart is with this property,” Quint said.

In April, Cedar Ridge was named Distillery of the Year by the California-based American Distilling Institute, coming out on top of the 1,300 distilleries across the country.

The Gazette also awarded Cedar Ridge the Excellence Award in Manufacturing during its 2017 Business Excellence Awards last week.

The company’s expansion comes as Iowans appear to be drinking more liquor. Spirit sales in Iowa grew to $305.6 million in the 2017 fiscal year, up 5.7 percent from the prior year, Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division Administrator Stephen Larson said recently.

During the 2016 fiscal year, sales from craft or “micro” distillers rose to $2.72 million in Iowa, up 59 percent from fiscal 2013. Craft bourbon and whiskey made up about 57 percent of those 2016 sales.

Quint said he sees bourbon making as a “logical industry” for Iowa.

“I’m not talking about replacing Louisville, Ky., as the center of the bourbon universe. What I am talking about is tying what we’re doing to consumer sentiment in terms of people finally starting to realize that bourbon is made from corn, and who makes the best corn in the world? It’s right here in Iowa,” he said.

Four other companies also received incentive awards Friday.

The authority board awarded Arconic, the aluminum sheet maker formerly known as Alcoa, $1.5 million in loans and more than $4.3 million in tax credits and refunds. The Pittsburgh-based company plans to install new heat treatment furnaces at its Davenport Works plant in Riverdale, where it employs about 2,500. The company has to create 30 jobs and retain another 250.

Arconic’s project is expected to cost about $162.6 million.

Other projects given incentives Friday include:

l Deere & Co., $2.9 million in tax credits and refunds: Deere plans to build a new $32.6 million building in Urbandale for its Intelligent Solutions Group, which researches and develops new technology. The company has to create 31 jobs and retain 20.

l TPI Iowa, $1.6 million in loans, tax credits and refunds: TPI will lease more space in Newton to make passenger bus bodies. The company needs to create 351 jobs.

l CJ Bio America, $901,430 in tax credits and refunds: The company plans spend $51 million in Webster County on new production buildings to make amino acids used in the raising of swine and poultry. CJ Bio needs to create 18 jobs.

l L8NT, an Iowa-City started with software to help law enforcement track stolen devices, received a $100,000 loan.

l Comments: (319) 398-8366; matthew.patane@thegazette.com

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