Archived entries for Spirits

Cedar Ridge Distillery: One Man’s Original Dream for Putting Iowa on the Map Leads to Distillery of the Year

Jeff Quint and me 

Jeff Quint traces his family back nine generations with a history of making wine, brandy, distilling and grain farming.  The winery that his great-great-great-great-great grandfather, Gerlaci Quint, started in the 1700s, which is located on the Moselle River in Germany, is still producing wine today.

In the 1880s, his great-grandfather, Johann Quint, moved the family from Wintrich, Germany, to eastern Iowa, and that’s where the story of farming and distilling continued.  In 2005, he and his wife, Laurie, founded Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery, Iowa’s first and oldest distillery, and solidified the family’s legacy in craft distilling.  That legacy was solidified in April of this year when Cedar Ridge beat out more than 300 distilleries representing 44 of the 50 states and 18 different countries to win Distillery of the Year from the American Distilling Institute.

In Jeff’s way, he’s very non-descript about the honor.  He states it simply – “It’s about authenticity. It’s about using the corn of the state.  It’s all about grain to glass. And, it’s all about crating micro-distilled small batch spirits dedicated to craftsmanship.”   He’s passionate.  His frustration of the fact that Iowa is the number one corn producing state, but had no bourbon, resulted in the founding of Cedar Ridge.  He has a Midwest mentality — do the best you can do with what nature provides and never, ever sacrifice quality for quantity.

Sounds simple? Right, but there’s much more to the story.  Swisher-based Cedar Ridge Winery and Distillery has a mission to be focused on whiskey with an emphasis on controlling the process from start to finish.  Cedar Ridge not only grows its own corn, but it also mashes, ferments, distills, ages and bottles the product with a focus on letting nature run its course with non-climate controlled aging in barrels stored in a natural environment.

The production capacity is currently at 1,000 barrels, but has the capacity to double in the future.  The whiskeys are double distilled to 148-150 proof, resulting in a purer end-product.

I had the chance to try the Cedar Ridge Bourbon, Cedar Ridge Malted Rye Whiskey and the Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey.

Cedar Ridge Bourbon – my husband is the bourbon expert in our family, but I loved how easy it is to sip this bourbon – notes of caramel, honey, anise and cedar are well balanced making it very approachable.  The blend is 74% corn (as we say in wine, it is estate grown from the family farm), 14% toasted rye and 12% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Malted Rye – lots of notes of toast, smoke, spice and berry.  Another easy drinker with a blend of 51% malted rye, 34% rye, 12% corn and 3% malted barley.

Cedar Ridge Single Malt Whiskey – another smooth, fruity and malty expression of a great scotch with notes of vanilla, honey, spice and a nuttiness.  The blend is 100% malted barley and there is a 3-step aging process, which includes primary and secondary cast married with solera.

Cedar Ridge sells more than 20,000 cases per year.  It’s available to 90 percent of the U.S. population in 15 states including Iowa — and Canada and the Caribbean.  It’s the No. 2 seller in Iowa next to Maker’s Mark.

Cedar Ridge Winery & Distillery offers daily tours and tastings, and wine and spirits are for sale on site.

It was a pleasure to taste a true expression from “grain to glass” and experience the craft expertise of why Cedar Ridge Distillery brought home the gold this year.

Tequila – Give it a Second Shot (or even better, a Sip)

Note: My husband, John Ofenloch, has served as my editor since Dallas Wine Chick began more than 8 years ago.  When he decided to go down the path of learning about spirits, I 100 percent supported that journey.  In March, he asked in lieu of a Father’s Day gift, to do the high end tequila tasting at the Four Season’s Resort in Punta Mita, Mexico.  This is his story.

I am a bourbon guy.  Always have been and still am, which makes it a bit unusual for me to write my first guest blog about tequila.

Tequila – for many (including me) it brings back memories of bad decisions in college when we thought “gold” meant “good.”  Being uneducated about tequila, I, like many after poor experiences, took a break from consuming this spirit unless it was buried in a margarita.  That changed about a decade ago.

It took a trip to Mexico and an informed and persuasive bartender to convince me to go “local”.

Efrain and me

I was at the Four Seasons Resort in Punta Mita, sidled up the bar and asked the bartender to recommend a sipping tequila.  He immediately recommended a brand-name tequila that is highly marketed, very popular in the US and not cheap.  Not that it is bad tequila, but having done a modicum of research, I shook my head and asked for another option.  He smiled.  What happened next was a tasting of tequilas, mezcals and raicillas.  Some pulled from secret compartments behind the bar usually allocated for knowledgeable nationals who knew better than me.

Fast forward 10 years and I’m a convert.  I now own proper Riedel tequila glasses and my college experience of tequila is far behind me.  Since that enlightening day in Mexico, I have had the opportunity to try many great tequilas, but recently I had the rare opportunity to taste three tequilas that you will not find…well…most anywhere.  On another beautiful afternoon in May at the Four Seasons , Punta Mita, I sat down with Efrain (a tequila expert at the Four Seasons) to try the three Extra Anejos:

Gran Patron “Piedra” Extra Anejo  - Aged for at least three years in new American oak and French oak casks, this tequila is produced using the traditional stone wheel process to grind the agave heart.  I tasted cinnamon, vanilla and clove.  I found it online for $400.

Clase Azul Ultra Extra Anejo – Wow – I am a frequent consumer of the Clase Azul Reposado but the Ultra is double distilled, aged for five years in sherry oak casks and produced in batches of 100 bottles per year.  This lingered longer on the palate than any of the other two tequilas.  I found it online for $1,800.

Jose Cuervo Ultra-Rare 250 – Jose Cuervo, there were times in college when you were NOT a friend of mine, but tonight…I love you.  This insane tequila is first aged in French and American oak barrels, then blended with tequilas found in the legendary depths of the Cuervo cellar and finally aged for another year in sherry barrels brought from Spain.  This limited-production tequila comes from agave grown on the original plot of land granted to Don Jose Cuervo in 1758 by the king of Spain.  From my research, 495 bottles were made and I found it online for $3,000.

I don’t know if I will be able to try these again but if you have the chance, and especially if someone else is picking up the tab (I picked up this one), don’t pass up the opportunity to try these amazing tequilas.  And if you still shudder when someone mentions the word “tequila”, find a knowledgeable rep at your local liquor store and give this spirit another shot – trash the lime and salt and find one you can sip.



A Refresher on My Lessons Learned at WBC: Frank Morgan Will Always Get in the Car

Frank Morgan ” Gets in the Car”

I thought I’d recap one of my most fun #wbc15 Wine Blogger Conference columns where I compared the lessons that I learned at the conference to a Cards Against Humanity game.  I can single-handedly say that was one of the most fun evenings where we piled twenty or so of us in one hotel room and I laughed so hard tears came down my face.

I’ve also thrown in a few of my favorite photos of conference and people throughout the years.  So looking forward to exploring Lodi, launching Masthead and catching up with people who I’ve mostly met on social media who quickly became dear, dear friends during my times at #wbc events over the years.

Here’s a small photo gallery of some of my favorite moments at past conferences.  (I did have a laptop failure and photos of my early conferences were completely wiped).

 There Ain’t No Sabre Like A Jeff Kralik Saber…

You have not attended a Wine Bloggers Conference without experiencing a good, bad and ugly Jeff Kralik saber experience.  Any item can be used as a weapon…

                   Joe Power (dressed up!) and Amy Corron Power at the Rodney Strong Event

         This Always Reminded Me of a Vanity Fair Shot .. in a Cheesy Heart-Shaped Bathtub?

                   Me and Karen MacNeil on the Bus to the Winery

                   Joe Herrig and I “Nose Off”

                    I Love This Tasting Crew

                      My Michael Jackson Dance Partner, Mary Cressler

The thing about this conference is that so many people make the experience and each year I get to hang out with amazing bloggers and writers who teach me how to be better.  I am so excited to hang with all of you this year and make new memories.

Minibar Launches in Dallas: The App Bringing Alcohol Your Way in a Zap

I usually do not wax poetic about another wine, spirits or beer related app.  I was recently introduced to Minibar, an experience that could easily be the most ingenious and dangerous app ever introducing to wine, spirits and beer loving consumers.

Minibar launched in Dallas on December 9th and the folks there gave me a $20 credit to try the experience.  The holidays got in the way, so it was actually December 27 when I downloaded the app, checked out the inventory and ordered my bottle of Domaine Carneros by Tattinger.  It took about 2 minutes to download from the app store (available on IOS, Android and the web); plug in my information including age (ID is checked for some and a $20 restocking fee is charged for those who cannot confirm being over 21) and credit card and then search the inventory available from the wine, spirits and beer local vendor partnered with Minibar near my location.  The service is free (you just tip the delivery person who is sourced by the local vendor).  Thirty seven minutes later and the bottle was at my door.  I had a $20 credit and probably put another $14 which included tip. The service also offers pairing recommendations, cocktail recipes, mixers and bar supplies – it’s truly one stop shopping in the palm of your hand.

The company started out of New York in February 2014.  After the completion of a $1.8 million round of financing, the service is available in New York, Dallas, San Francisco, Chicago and New Jersey.  And the folks at Minibar tell me there are many more to come.  The company was founded by two successful corporate business women with direct to consumer experience.  Co-founders Lara Crystal and Lindsey Andrews worked for successful businesses like Rent the Runway and FreshDirect.  They realized that almost every other service was available to consumers, with the exception of the trip to your local liquor store.

It truly is the perfect app for those on the go; those who want to restock their bars but have little time as well as those who are currently in celebration mode and should not venture out to the liquor store.  From app store to your door in less than an hour, Minibar truly breaks down the last delivery frontier from your friendly neighborhood liquor store.

Winebow and Wilson Daniels Wine Portfolio Tours: A Taste of Heaven

Recently I had the opportunity to attend two portfolio tastings that swung through Dallas.  For those of you who haven’t had the chance to attend a portfolio tasting; it’s designed to showcase the wines imported and distributed by the company sponsoring the event.  It is a bit of a “kid in a candy store” experience, with wine buyers, restaurants, sommeliers and other industry wine people together in one place at the same time. 

Winebow was the first to come through town with the Vini d’Italia Tour 2014.  With this tour there was an opportunity to spend a brief period of time with one of my favorite wine people and friends, Melissa Sutherland Amado.  The tour focused on the Northern, Central and Southern regions of Italy and with 35 wineries they brought an array of wines.   

Melissa brought me through a variety of Italian wines.  I enjoyed them all – it was a diverse and interesting snapshot into “off the beaten path” Italian wines.  My favorites included:

  • Valdipiatta (Toscana) Vino Nobile Di Montulciano DOCG – this was 95 percent Sangiovese and 5 percent Canaiolo Nero.  It was elegant and delicious.
  • Giuseppe Cortese (Piemonte) Barbaresco Rabaja Riserva DOCG – this was earthy, rich and fabulous.  I really enjoyed this wine and would love to see what develops in the bottle over time.
  • Tenuta di Fessina (Sicilia) Erse Etna Rossa DOC – grown in volcanic rock, this was a mix of herbs, flowers, oak and black fruit.  I loved it – so different.
  • Altesino (Toscana) Brunello Di Montalcino DOCG – made from 100 percent estate grown grapes, this wine was truly the crème de la crème of the region.  It was stunning.

The next portfolio tasting came from the Wilson Daniels, a company known for its collection of luxury wines and spirits.  When I say luxury, I mean luxury.  Approximately 32 wineries and spirit companies attended and attendees were given several tickets that I soon realized the value of as I walked the floor.  The first ticket entitled us to a generous taste of Domaine de la Romanee-Conti Echezeaux, one of the Grand Cru burgundies.  

I quickly learned to hold my other tickets close to the vest as the second one brought me to Domaine Leflaive where I tried the 2009 Puligny-Montrachet.  Whoa.   There I had a great conversation with the rep at the table who guided me toward a small winery purchased by Anne-Claude Leflaive and Christian Jacques in 2008.  Clau de Nell made some great estate wines that are biodynamic.  I had never tried Grolleau, a native Loire Valley wine that I loved.  Seek it out if you can find it.

My final ticket gave me access to the Royal Tokaji portfolio where I was lucky enough to sit down with Ben Howkins, author of Tokaji, “A Classic – Lost & Found” and the co-founder of Royal Tokaji and the Tokaji Renaissance.  He personally tasted me through 10 wines in the portfolio including still and dessert wines that ended up with a spoonful (yes, usually a mother of pearl spoon, but not at a portfolio tasting) of the 1991 Tokaj Betsek, proof that God loves wine.

This was a great week to be a wine blogger – I must say.  The good news is that these importers understand that Dallas wine drinkers expect to have access to great wines – and they are answering the call.


Johnny Schuler, the Pisco Man of Portón Tells His Story

I found Johnny Schuler, Master Distiller of Portón, holding court at The Porch last week with 38 mixologists hanging on his every word and tasting creations made with Pisco as they prepared and brainstormed for a “best cocktail” competition at Victor Tango’s.  Schuler is one of the top Pisco authorities in the world, and has been credited with single-handedly revitalizing Peru’s native drink.

His passion for Pisco started in 1977 when he was a well-known chef and restaurateur.  Johnny was a regular on the international spirits tasting circuit and was asked to help judge a competition.  He was ambivalent about the spirit at the time as he thought it wasn’t sophisticated.  During the competition however, there was a certain Pisco that he described as “love at first sip” as it had such a “robust and unique flavor”.  It quickly went from an interest to a hobby to a passion. 

For 20 years he’s been dedicated to bringing the government (INDECOPI) and private sectors to regulate the Pisco industry in Peru as the president of the National Tasters Guild.  In 2010, he was considering retirement at age 63 when he was approached by Bill and Brent Kallop, the founders of Portón, where he was tasked with creating an ultra-premium Pisco for the U.S. market.  “It was a miracle that happens once in a lifetime – I had the license to creative the ultimate spirit.”  The contract was never actually signed; it was a Texas handshake deal.

Johnny’s the host of Por Las Rutas del Pisco, which is aired in Latin America and the U.S. and he has written several books on Pisco.  Right now he’s primarily focusing on getting the word out about the versatility of the beverage through mixologists and chefs.  “It’s the hot new ingredient to use,” he said.

Johnny is still dreaming of recreating the Pisco experience that he had in 1977. “I’m dreaming of the one that I haven’t tasted.”  He also has a philosophy that I agree with about making a quality Pisco that sometimes evades Texans.  “We shouldn’t be proud of it because it is Peruvian, we should be proud of it because it is good.”

You can tell his passion and how involved he is with every aspect of making Portón.  “Nothing is bottled until my nose approves it,” he said. We tried two cocktails and a Pisco straight up, chilled in the right glass, which tasted of honeysuckle, orange blossom, violet, floral notes and was very smooth.  “The American market is a cocktail culture and certainly has embraced Pisco,” he continued.

To be considered authentic, Pisco must be made from one or a blend of eight traditional grape varietals including Quebranta, Common Black, Mollar, Italia, Muscat, Albilla, Torontel and Uvina).  In Portón, the torontel grapes are made in the mosto verde method, which means the distillate is made from grape juice that has not completely fermented.  Because some of the natural grape sugars do not convert to alcohol, the original flavor and aroma of the grape are kept.  Of the 280 distillers who make Pisco, no more than ten make it in this style.  The SRP is $39.99.

Johnny talked about his personal philosophy.  “I don’t believe in luck.  The more I worked, the luckier I was,” he said.  He’s got some big plans for the brand and the passion and energy to pull it off.


Grants Last Stand: 100 Year Family Recipe Recreation

Say you had one secret family recipe over 100 years old that was never actually written down, but you wanted to recreate it to honor a family member who started your business five generations ago.  Add to that the complexity of the recipe containing ingredients from nine different sources – many that don’t exist today in the original format – and you have the daunting challenge of trying to create William Grant’s original scotch blend.

But Brian Kisman, Grant’s sixth master blender in 100 years, decided to do just that.  It took him eight years relying only on this nose and he blended almost 30 different whiskies trying to recreate what he thought this master recipe should taste like.  The property had an old cottage which served as a storage unit of sorts until the family hired its first archivist in 2009.  And, this archivist found a book from 1912 that contained a recipe.  Surprisingly enough his blend vs. what Grant originally used was very close.

Grant, originally born in 1929 Dufftown in the Scottish highlands, a town of 1,600 people and nine distilleries, saw opportunity in the late 1800’s with a malt whiskey blend of malt and grain whiskey.  You still know the prevalent names that dominated the market back then – Johnny Walker, Glenfiddich, Patterson and Haig.   The Grant name, which was named after the family’s battle cry “Stand Fast,” graced the bottle for five generations.  Grant whiskey hit the U.S. in 1905, when John Grant brought it stateside, and sells an average of two bottles per second or around 1.5 million bottles per year.  In 1956, Grant hired a designer, who interestingly enough designed the London Tube, to come up with the innovative triangular bottle still used today.

Grants is blended with two types of whiskeys – malt and grain, which is a blend of barley and wheat (sometimes including maize) using batch processes in pot stills.  The family uses five different distilleries to come up with one master blend from the casks.

I tried the regular Grants blend, which was sweet, rich and had notes of honey, toffee, vanilla and an almost fruity flavor.   Then we opened one of only two existing bottles in the United States of Grant’s Last Stand.  Wow – it was smooth, yet peaty.  Smoky, yet floral.  Exquisite stuff.

We talked about the label then and what had to change.  Back in the late 1800s, it was just fine to talk about how you should drink Grants Last Stand under the supervision of a qualified doctor.  Medicinal purposes and all … And, because the blend contains egg whites (one per 20 liters), you must disclose that the blend contains eggs.

I think I’ll buy the medicinal purposes disclaimer.

Dita Von Teese, Spirited Libations and European Men


You may ask what Dita Von Teese, the International Queen of Burlesque, and Cointreau Liquor have in common.  More than you would think.  I had a chance to talk to Dita again last month during her trip through Dallas where she served as the brand ambassador for Cointreau at a poolside event at Ku de Ta.  You may recall that she came through Dallas last year, where she paid homate to Margarita Sames, the Dallas socialite who created the original Cointreau Margarita in 1948.

Dita and I talked the synergies – she does her burlesque act in a giant cocktail glass, the brand is sophisticated, it’s international and Cointreau supports her vision for her brand.  Of course I had to ask her about her favorite wine and she enthusiastically declared it as champagne.  When pressed a little more, she told me that she dates mostly European men and that they know good wine. 

The party , with about 200 guests, was fun and included a special synchronized swimming performance by the Aqualillies who definitely had a “Mad Men” 1950’s vibe.


Dita Does Dallas: And Brings Her MargaDita with her

Dita Von

Courtesy of Cointreau 

The Queen of Burlesque, Dita Von Teese, recently lit up the Rosewood Mansion on Turtle Creek to launch the Cointreau MargaDita.  A crown of fashionistas tried cocktails by head mixologist Rocco Milano and noshed on hors d’oeuvres.  What I didn’t know is that a Dallas socialite, Margarita Sames, created the original recipe in 1948 while vacationing in Acapulco.  Try it at home with this recipe or at the Mansion bar for $15.

Cointreau Marg

Cointreau® MargaDita Recipe
1 oz Cointreau ®
1 oz Silver Tequila
1 oz Fresh Lime Juice
1/2 oz Monin Rose Syrup
1 pinch Chipotle Spice

Mix all ingredients into a cocktail shaker filled with ice.  Shake vigorously and pour into a chilled coup glass.  Garnish with Yellow Rose of Texas.  For an added kick, add a chipotle and salt rim.

The Dalmore Made Me Do It: How I Became A Scotch Convert

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When I received the invitation for The Dalmore event, billed as one of the most expensive whiskeys in the world, I pondered if I should attend. My drink of choice is wine and I thought that the nuances of scotch with its peaty nature and “the hair off your arm” throat burn might be lost on me.

But the chance to meet Richard Paterson, a man known as “The Nose” and the master blender for The Dalmore along with the chance to drink the “crème de la crème” of scotch intrigued me.  Maybe all of this wine tasting would make me develop a new appreciation for this boy’s club spirit?  So I gave it a go.

With a ton of energy, an almost uncanny grasp of history (dates, names, places), a sharp sense of humor and a mesmerizing Scottish accent, Richard talked about how these are whiskeys that are meant to be savored and not knocked back.  These scotches, like fine wines, are meant to be respected and savored.  I can’t tell you how many times I’ve opened a special wine to watch people drink it like Kool-Aid.  Let’s just say that when this occurs, the second bottle that I open is something drastically different. 

The Dalmore Distillery has been producing a range of high quality single malt whiskies since 1839 and, for almost a century, was owned by the Clan Mackenzie. The clan’s royal stag’s antlers – taken from the Mackenzie family crest – still adorn every bottle of The Dalmore.

The distilling and blending process, which is defined as “the art of The Dalmore,” is defined by four steps and reminds me a great deal of how good wine is made:

-          A unique distillation process that ironically was cultivated from the efforts of the church

-          Maturation in bespoke oak casks

-          Fusion with the efforts of the master distiller

-          Aged in some of the best wood from the world’s most famous wineries

Hmmm.  Was thinking I might enjoy this a little more than I first expected due to the wine making similarities.  And, ironically this whiskey came to the market when dreaded phylloxera (a disease known in the wine making world) hit cognac, which was the drink of choice, and people needed a new option. 


Richard talked us through the tasting process – swirl, smell from left to right from one side of the glass to the other and then the sip.  The scotch should hit the middle of the tongue first, then underneath and then the back, which is about a 15 second process, and then you swallow.


We started with The 15 and I got honey, chocolate, mascarpone, spice, orange marmalade and honey.  I was shocked as I never thought I’d get these flavors and balance, but was surprised to hear that this blend included Matusalem, Apolstoles and Amorosa Sherry from Jerez de la Frontera.  This retails for about $75 a bottle.  Our next tasting was The 18, which also uses 100 percent Matusalem sherry, and retails for about $150.  I tasted crushed almonds, spice and coffee.  Richard suggested trying this whiskey with a great coffee and chocolate for a decadent after dinner experience.   

Our grand finale was the King Alexander III, which was the pinnacle of our tasting.  This was a blend of the best French wine, Madeira, sherry from Jerez, Marsala, port and small batch bourbon.  And wow – tropical fruits, vanilla, cedar and black currant made this unbelievable.


It’s official. I am a scotch convert. The Dalmore made me do it … unfortunately the prices rival the finest wines, but this is a tasting that changed the way I look at scotch forever.

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