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Liquor Law Reform Could Help QC Tourist Attraction

A LeClaire distiller will help the state tackle a big job that could take a long time. Garrett Burchett will represent a dozen micro-distilleries on a task force that will study Iowa's old and complicated alcohol laws.
Michelle O'Neill reports the group's first meeting will be held today.

Six years ago, Garrett Burchett and his brother started small, making batches of vodka to sell from their shop on Cody Road. Now, Mississippi River Distilling attracts nearly 60,000 people a year to LeClaire. 

They want to see how the liquor is made and expect to sit down and try a glass. "We want to do that responsibly and within the laws, within those rules, no different than any other bar or restaurant but at the same time, we want that opportunity no different than breweries and wineries.”

Iowa code requires small distilleries to stop producing liquor once they reach a certain limit. Burchett says another problem is the company is only allowed to sell two bottles of liquor per day to a customer, but can't sell any by the glass. And free samples are limited to two ounces per person per day.

But the LeClaire distillery is growing. It sells vodka, gin, and whiskey to customers in 26 states and three foreign countries. 

“At some point, we will exceed that production limit,” he says. “This company will be so successful that we’ll have to close our doors to the folks of Iowa and Illinois. We’ll have to close our front door. There’s not a brewery in the state of Iowa that has a production limit. No one walked into a brewery and said, ‘Hey, the more successful you are, eventually, we’re going to have to put a stop to that.'”

The Iowa alcohol policy task force is expected to make recommendations to the next legislature. 

The group's co-chairs are the directors of the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division and Economic Development Authority. The other members represent Iowa's beer, wine, and liquor industries.

From the WVIK News Archive

A Tour of the Mississippi River Distilling Company by Michelle O'Neill, December 30, 2010

A new company in LeClaire can't make vodka fast enough. Since the Mississippi River Distilling Company opened two weeks ago, demand for "River Baron" -- its only product so far -- has been very high. 

Manager and Distiller, Ryan Burchett, says 1500 to 2000 people have stopped by to tour the new building and see its equipment, which includes -- several fermenting tanks and a large, copper still from Germany. People waited in line, and 60 bottles sold out in less than one hour. 

Burchett says people want to buy the company's vodka because it's made with local corn and wheat. It's also distilled in small batches, and therefore, has a flavor unlike most major brands of vodka.

Burchett and his brother Garrett are serious about using local services and products, such as:
- Bettendorf's Friemel Construction
- MindFire Communications in LeClaire
- Carlson Barnwood in Cambridge 
- and The Barrell Mill, which is located in Minnesota but harvests trees in northern Iowa. 

They need the barrels to make their next product, bourbon, which will include barley grown near Reynolds.

Officially, Michelle's title for 28 years was WVIK News Editor. She did everything there is to do in the newsroom and whatever was needed around the radio station. She also served as Acting News Director from September 2023 - January 2024.
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