When most people think of Iowa, corn is likely the first image that comes to mind. (Even though soybeans are the primary cash crop in the state.) Yet more and more hip-hop artists and industry professionals such as DJ Green Lantern and Brandon Darner, mega-producer for Imagine Dragons (who recently gave one of college football championship’s most epic halftime performances) are starting to realize that the flyover states not only hold a lot of financial promise but also a large fan base.

Oh yeah, and they like to drink too.

In fact, Iowa, specifically Carrol County, was one of the major players in bootleg operations during the prohibition era.

It was this marriage of hip hop and history, combined with an increased demand for a locally-branded liquor line, that led to the birth of Ziyad- and attracted the attention of major industry professionals.

Prohibition Era Jazz Roots
Ziyad started out as a limited small batch white rye whiskey based on a 100-year-old recipe from backwoods’ moonshiners. The recipe was later manufactured and distributed by notorious Midwest mobsters during the prohibition era. Des Moines emcee and entrepreneur, and Ziyad creator, Marquas “MarKaus” Ashworth first stumbled upon the old recipe and began to investigate what made it so popular. It turns out that the prohibition era style of distillation had all but vanished in the current market.

Ashworth and his fellow chemists began experimenting with the classic way of making spirits, finding that the slower method put a greater emphasis on quality and taste, better bringing out smooth hints of Carmel against a vanilla backdrop better than current manufacturing methods.

More interestingly, Ziyad’s creators added a hint of history as well during the manufacturing, using the original stills, which were custom built for this recipe. They grow their rye in the same fields that it was grown in almost 100 years ago.

Noting that white rye whiskey was also a favorite of Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Bix Beiderbecke, and other jazz musicians of the ’20s and ’30s who had ties to Des Moines, Chicago, Kansas City, Detroit, and other nearby midwestern cities, Ashworth decided to fuse the classic recipe with music- especially powerful music that reflects the current culture.

“Ziyad Rye is fueled by the culture, especially hip hop culture,” says Ashworth. “Not only does this signal a new chapter for independent artists, but for the economy itself. The brand, which coincides with upcoming music festivals and products is backed not only by DJ Green Lantern and Darner but also Aeon Grey, Mike Hurst (King Louie, Boosie), Sonic Militia and other artists. My goal is to blur that line between major and local and indie or whatever. The modern day rapper isn’t just about hot 16’s- they’re about hot business plans as well.”

Local and national hip hop vibes
Most importantly, the artists all have close ties to the Des Moines hip hop community. While Darner and others hail from the area, others simply fell in love with the city’s laid back vibe. DJ Lantern, who headlined last year’s Fresh Fest said he’s “really digging” Des Moines and the love he was shown during his stay in the city, so much that he played extra sets at local bars following the event.

In an effort to promote local artists and events, download tags will be attached to bottles. Download tags will feature content such as new songs, exclusive videos, tickets to upcoming shows and private tastings, and other “digital goodie packages.”

As for Ziyad’s next “goodie?” The company will be releasing a new flavor, “Ziyad Aged Rye,” in the coming weeks as well as announcing new artists that will be joining the brand.

Ashworth ultimately hopes that the brand will become a cultural staple within the Midwest hip hop community, bridging the historical gap from Louie Armstrong to King Louie- and everything in between.