The 5-year 86 proof Cedar Ridge “Reserve” Bourbon is now on the shelves. Cedar Ridge sells this as part of a three-pack of 375 ml bottles: the 86% proof Reserve Bourbon Whiskey, an 80 proof 100% Wheat Whiskey, and an 80 proof Single Malt Blended Whiskey. This bourbon was originally intended to be distilled during the summer of 2008, but the flood during that summer destroyed much of downtown Cedar Rapids and much of the Cedar Ridge Distillery operation. After the flood, the team had to scramble to get the still rewired, drained of flood water, and cleaned out. After the still was restarted, this was the bourbon that was distilled and barreled. This bourbon has been tucked away, first at the old facility and later at the current facility, for five years now.
So how does it taste? For my non-blind taste test I got out the standard Cedar Ridge Bourbon and a regular Buffalo Trace Bourbon. I figured that the younger Cedar Ridge Bourbon might give me a hint as to how this bourbon has matured. The Buffalo Trace Bourbon was chosen because it is a well-respected Kentucky bourbon that most bourbon aficionados have tried and appreciate.
The younger Cedar Ridge was distinctly lighter in color than the other two. The aroma was also younger, with more of what I like to describe as pine sap. This was followed with the usual oak and some additional spice aromas as well. The 5 year Reserve bourbon from Cedar Ridge had much less of the pine aroma, but it was there. There was also a lot more cinnamon and spice along with some caramel and sugar. The Buffalo Trace had none of the pine aroma of the other two Bourbons and it took awhile to open up. Once it did, it was quite impressive. It was heavy on the apple, fruit, and cotton candy. In fact, it reminded me of trips my family used to take to an old apple orchard where they pressed the apples in huge wooden presses. The ripe smell of old apple mash in the October sun is what the Buffalo Trace conveys to me.
Down the hatch! Starting with the standard Cedar Ridge Bourbon, there was not an insignificant alcohol burn around the mouth which continued as I swallowed the sample. The five-year “Reserve,” even thought it has a higher proof, was distinctly smoother on the way down, and with less burn. The aroma somewhat dissipated, but it was still there, along with an oak-tannin finish. The Buffalo Trace was quite different. The aromas disappeared quickly as I swallowed my Buffalo Trace. In fact, I’d describe the flavor as sort of flat. The alcohol was replaced with a slight lingering odor of damp wood. Before you get down on my for describing the Buffalo Trace that way, keep in mind that this bottle had the most fantastic nose of any bourbon I’ve tried. It just took awhile to arrive and left quickly once there.
What do I make of this 5 year “Reserve” Bourbon? It is an interesting Bourbon. It certainly has more “character” given that it did not come from a giant continuous column still like the Buffalo Trace. This extra punch (the pine aroma) that is so evident in the younger version is what some Des Moines, Iowa bartenders tout when looking for a bourbon that can punch its way through a cocktail. Packaged the way it is, and given the tiny supply, I doubt that this Reserve bourbon will be used in cocktails – which is probably a good thing. Even though it lacked the fabulous bouquet of the Buffalo Trace bourbon, that is a tough standard to beat. But there are two things to keep in mind here. First, I think that the Reserve actually beat the Buffalo Trace on the finish, with a nice clean oak flavor. The Kentucky product lost that wonderful aroma very quickly and the smell of old, damp wood was definitely there. Maybe those hot, humid, Kentucky barrel houses have something to do with that. Second, the Cedar Ridge product is a unique product. It is likely the first bourbon to be legally produced in Iowa. Find an unopened 375 ml bottle and you have a real keeper There is only one “first.” And for a first try, it is very, very, good. It will cost you but for Iowans, it is a keeper.
February, 2014 Update:
Cedar Ridge has announced that it will sell the 5-year Bourbon in individual 375ml bottles! They are now available at the distillery.