Kentucky may claim to be the true home of bourbon, but Iowa’s home team at Cedar Ridge Distillery in Swisher is giving them a run for their money. After a year of growth, Cedar Ridge’s Iowa Straight Bourbon Whiskey is now the number one selling bourbon in the state of Iowa, beating out 95 other bourbons including widely distributed and mass produced brands like Jim Beam, Maker’s Mark and Bulleit.
The fight for first place began in 2018, after Cedar Ridge’s Iowa Bourbon Whiskey was named Best Category Bourbon in the Los Angeles International Spirits competition. The distillery then created a campaign centered around the idea of beating out Kentucky bourbons, naming it “Sorry, Kentucky.”
While the humor behind the simple message proved memorable, the campaign stalled due to a lack of funds. It returned in full force in 2020 followed by a flood of Cedar Ridge billboards, radio and TV commercials and a strong social and digital media presence, grabbing Iowans’ attention and encouraging them to join the climb to the top.
“A surprising number of Iowans don’t really know who we are or what we’re doing, so our main goal was to reach them,” owner Jeff Quint said. “We want to own our home turf, we want to be super relevant in Iowa before we expand into surrounding states.”
It’s safe to say that Iowans noticed this effort and honored their pride in their home state. The proof is in the numbers. According to the Alcoholic Beverages Division’s August report, Cedar Ridge sold just over 336 cases of bourbon versus Jim Beam’s nearly 663 cases.
Then, after the “Sorry, Kentucky” campaign was resurrected across the state, the numbers spiked, resulting in 1,138 cases of Cedar Ridge’s Iowa Bourbon flying off the shelves in September while Jim Beam’s numbers dropped to 605 cases.
These staggering numbers not only won Cedar Ridge the number one sales spot in Iowa, but also earned them recognition for being the first craft bourbon in the nation to take top sales in any state, let alone its own. This is a feat not even Kentucky has accomplished, as Jim Beam and Maker’s Mark are owned by a Japanese company.
With two major goals accomplished, Cedar Ridge’s next goal is simply to maintain the number one spot while also becoming a popular commodity in neighboring states.
“We’re now trying to figure out a message that resonates outside of Iowa. They don’t have the Iowa love that we do, but we want to be the next New Glarus of the Midwest,” Anna Servey, Cedar Ridge’s marketing manager, said. “Next time somebody comes into Iowa, we want them to be thinking, ‘I’ve got to get a bottle of that bourbon.’ I want us to be currency.”