Building A Premium Bourbon Brand

The maker of the first bourbon whiskey produced in Iowa since Prohibition wanted to make sure that the launch of his long-anticipated product would perpetuate the superior reputation of his winery and distillery.

So when Cedar Ridge Vineyards owner and master distiller Jeff Quint prepared for the initial release of his Iowa Bourbon Whiskey, he asked the FUEL team to ensure that his premium, hand-crafted product would command attention and build on the high-quality brand established through his line of award-winning locally made wines and spirits.

Iowa Bourbon Whiskey, released in July 2010, is the flagship product in a line of Cedar Ridge dark aged spirits that includes apple brandy, grape brandy, and rum. Aged in new American oak barrels, it contains nearly 75 percent corn content (the minimum requirement for bourbon whiskey is 51 percent). “We are a small, artisan distillery producing a hand-crafted, premium-priced product,” says Quint. “We wanted to convey that. We chose a premium bottle, and FUEL went to work on the packaging.” Quint had previously enlisted FUEL’s help to develop the brand for his premium wines, Clearheart spirits, and dark aged spirits.

The label developed by FUEL for Iowa Bourbon Whiskey features an aged, weathered look that captures the small-batch, artisan quality of the product while incorporating the distinctive Cedar Ridge mark and a brief description of the painstaking process used to create the whiskey. A hand-lettered secondary label identifies the barrel and bottle number for each bottle sold, creating a personal connection to the distiller. As part of the initial release, FUEL designed Iowa Bourbon Whiskey t-shirts with corresponding barrel and bottle numbers, sold in combination with each of the first 360 bottles.

 “It has the look and feel of a craft, distilled premium product that is consistent with the Cedar Ridge look and fits our low-volume, high-quality output, so it enforces and extends our brand.”

— Jeff Quint

Quint says the brand developed by FUEL positions his bourbon whiskey unmistakably in the distinguished family of Cedar Ridge products. “It has the look and feel of a craft, distilled premium product that is consistent with the Cedar Ridge look and fits our low-volume, high-quality output, so it enforces and extends our brand.”

The launch of Iowa Bourbon Whiskey was part of a comprehensive marketing plan developed by Quint in conjunction with the Entrepreneurial Development Center (EDC) in Cedar Rapids. Josie Heskje, EDC Vice President of Marketing, says the goal was to create a premium brand consistent with the firm’s high-quality image and emphasize the hand-crafted, Iowa-made nature of the product. “FUEL understands the importance of a consistent image, and they have a fantastic skill set for developing a brand,” she says. “They come at it from a holistic perspective and step back, research it, and look at how it will fit into the bigger picture of the industry.”

The product launch was incorporated into a broader campaign encouraging consumers to visit the newly expanded Cedar Ridge Vineyards Winery and Distillery in Swisher, Iowa, where customers enjoy live music along with wine and spirits, food and merchandise. “Our goal has been to get people out there to try our products,” says Quint, “and they have been coming in higher numbers than we anticipated.With plans to release 1,500 cases — 250 per month — the first year, Quint sent a postcard to 600 Iowa retailers announcing the launch of Iowa Bourbon Whiskey. The demand for the product has been so strong that the Iowa State Liquor Board reduced the number of cases available for sale to a single retailer from five to one per month. “We’re farther along than we thought we would be at this point,” Quint says. “FUEL gave us the visual identity and a consistent look and message that goes with that. We consider them a partner, and I can’t imagine that we would work with anyone else.”