Mississippi River Distilling Company’s “Grain to Glass” Philosophy Fills Niche in Iowa
When the Burchett brothers first started talking about the idea of starting their own micro-distillery, they didn’t have much experience. Now, more than a year after its opening, the Mississippi River Distilling Company boasts locally made and award-winning spirits.
Located in LeClaire, Iowa, just above the banks of the Mississippi River, the micro-distillery has been in operation since December of 2010. Ryan and Garrett Burchett honed their skills for distilling by visiting and researching the craft in Germany, eventually bringing back what they learned to their home state of Iowa.
Once limited by restrictive laws, micro distillers in Iowa got a boost in July of 2010, when distilleries were allowed to offer samples and sell for off-premises consumption. Now, on the heels of micro brewing, micro distilling is growing in popularity across the country. Many of these micro breweries like New Belgium, Sierra Nevada, and Lakefront Brewing have found success in marketing local brews. The Burchett Brothers decided to follow their lead and offer quality spirits with local ingredients.
Grain to Glass
At first, using local ingredients just made sense for Mississippi River Distilling Company; Iowa is known for its surplus of corn. “We knew we could get our corn locally … and once we decided we were going to do that, it snowballed. Looking back on how it all came together, it’s clear why it really resonates with customers that our product is local,” says Ryan Burchett.
Today the brothers practice the “Grain to Glass” philosophy, where they pride themselves on sourcing all of their wheat, corn, and barley from farmers within 25 miles of the distillery. Every bottle that leaves the Mississippi River Distilling Company has a hand crafted batch and bottle number, so customers can actually look up the batch notes for their bottle and read online the history behind each batch.
“We hold ourselves accountable,” says Burchett. “It’s one thing to have a good spirit just because you are a good distiller. It’s another thing when you have a good spirit because it is also homegrown and homemade. And that’s what we bring to the table in this industry that no one else can match.”
Making local purchases is also good for business. It reduces transportation costs, supports surrounding businesses, and engages the community with a company’s product. The Mississippi River Distillery Company is also decorated with local artist’s work, and even part of the building was built with reclaimed barn beams.
A Growing Trend
Burchett expects the trend of localized micro distilleries to continue to grow throughout Iowa. “In the long run, sourcing locally is what is going to be the backbone of micro distilling. People learned to appreciate something different than the major players of the brewing industry, and the same thing is happening with micro distilling now. It makes a difference.”
And the difference shows. The micro-distillery has received national attention and multiple awards. Their River Pilot Vodka received the Beverage Tasting Institute (BTI) Gold Medal in the New York International Review of Spirits Competition. TheFiftyBest.com recognized River Baron Artisan Spirit as the 8th best Vodka made in the United States. The company’s River Rose Gin, an old German recipe famous for it’s floral notes, received a Silver Medal for the 2011 Micro Liquor Spirits Awards. And perhaps most impressive: Mississippi River Distilling Company’s signature Cody Road Bourbon Whisky flew off the shelves in local stores within three days (the next batch will be ready March 2nd of 2012).
With such success, the Burchett brothers plan to move forward with their distribution across the Midwest. The distillery currently distributes to Iowa, Illinois, and Missouri, and they are soon hoping to expand to Minnesota and Wisconsin. “We want to focus regionally on places that have a connection to the Mississippi River,” says Burchett.
The brothers also have plans to continue to partner with other local businesses to make limited edition seasonals, including honey-infused vodka, strawberry-infused vodka, and a beer whiskey, all of which will hit the shelves this year.
Visit the Mississippi River Distilling Company to request their spirits in your area or find the nearest distributor. And, if you are ever in the area, the Burchett brothers encourage you to stop by for a free public tour seven days a week. “Once people hear our story,” says Ryan, “they want to be a part of it. We have something truly local, small brand, and from the ground up.”
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