Posted Online: Jan. 19, 2013, 3:10 pm

Distillery, brewery partner for LeClaire expansion

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By Jonathan Turner, jturner@qconline.com

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Photo: Gary Krambeck
Paul Krutzfeldt, founder of Great River Brewery in Davenport, left, and Ryan Burchett, distiller manager of Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, show some of the products that will be featured when the proposed 7,000-square-foot expansion to the distillery is completed. The expansion will be for Great River brewery to brew specialty beers on site and create a tasting room that will serve both companies' products.
"Mixed drinks" are taking on new meaning at Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, as the 2-year-old business plans to expand and partner with Great River Brewery in Davenport.

This summer, the two companies will build a two-story, 7,000-square-foot addition on the north side of MRDC, 303 N. Cody Road, to allow for increased production.

The brewery will make new craft beers, the two will work together to produce a beer whiskey and an ale aged in whiskey barrels and visitors can get samples and buy items from both businesses in the GRB tasting room.

"When we built this building, we planned it to last five years, but after two years we're bursting at the seams," MRDC co-owner Ryan Burchett said of his 6,000-square-foot brick building.

"Everything's happening a little faster than we ever planned. We'd be looking at this on our own anyway. With these guys coming to the table, it's such an exciting opportunity that it pushed us forward on everything."

GRB, which has less than 6,000 square feet at 332 E. 2nd St., Davenport, started in 2004 as a brew pub in Iowa City. In December 2008, it moved the entire brewing operation to Davenport with plans to package its beers.

Today, it makes six varieties and sells to restaurants, bars and retail outlets in six Midwest states, with plans to expand into Wisconsin, co-ownerPaul Krutzfeldt said.

"Each year, our production has almost doubled in size," he said. "We've had a couple products that have been around four years, but the growth of those is still growing. We've been wanting to do the next line of beers for a long time, but we don't have enough space in our current location."

The two craft alcohol firms have collaborated for two years on a marketing effort with Irish Dog Bloody Mary Mix called "Think Local, Drink Local," promoting them in local stores. The idea is "to highlight the fact that our products are made here in the community and show people the diversity of what's available to them," Mr. Burchett said.

"As we've grown and things have evolved, we've started looking at different projects we can do together," he said, adding that when he heard GRB was looking for a second location, MRDC was a perfect fit.

"With the economies of scale, building together, the opportunity to have an adjoining brewery is just fantastic for us," Mr. Burchett said. "It takes this whole thing what we do here, the tourist draw and things, to another level -- to have two of these not only in the same town, but in the same building."

Hard liquor is licensed and regulated differently than beer and wine, meaning that GRB customers can consume full servings of its beers on site, but MRDC customers cannot in LeClaire.

MRDC -- which distributes to seven states, including Texas -- offers product tastings (including gin, vodka, bourbon and rye) after each free tour and at Friday events.

GRB will not duplicate brewing of its current lineup in LeClaire, Mr. Krutzfeldt said, adding that he wants to brew some beers with higher alcohol volume. "I don't have space to brew the things I want to brew, more vibrant, more intense flavors, but smaller batches. It gives us a chance to put them in 22-ounce bottles, serve them that way.

"It's a whole new line of beers for us," he said. One may be aBarrel Aged Farmer Ale this spring. GRB already has 3,000 gallons of its Farmer Brown Ale aging in MRDC barrels, he said. "It pulls out what little whiskey is left in the barrel, and pulls out characteristics from the wood."

In the new building, MRDC occasionally will produce beer whiskey, distilled from GRB beer, Mr. Burchett said. "When youdistill alcohol out of their beer, it's a whole different flavor."

"The cool thing is what we do in small batches, we can do something with the beer we may never replicate again," Mr. Krutzfeldt said. "There used to be beer and light beer, and people never knew what stout or pale ale was. They discover new flavors."

Despite the recession, the two companies have done well because of the boom in the craft-beer industry and the trend for consumers to buy local, the men said.

"In terms of competition, there are certainly a lot of breweries right now," Mr. Krutzfeldt said. "While there's a lot and competition is high, there's still a lot of market to gain. There are still people that can become converts from yellow beer."

"As a 2-year-old business, it used to be -- 'there's s a distillery in the Quad-Cities?' At least people know we're out here now," Mr. Burchett said. "There's a consumer who's drawn to craft beer who never may have dipped their toes into the craft spirits world. We want to get people who appreciate small beer to look at small liquor. That's a huge part of the puzzle we're trying to put together."

The "Think Local, Drink Local" motto continues for both, as GRBuses Davenport's Redband coffee beans in its Redband Stout, and MRDC uses grain from farmers within a 25-mile radius.

As it sells in other states, "that story is not local to them, but consumers appreciate we're accountable for the ingredients we use from a local standpoint," Mr. Burchett said. "That's been our real selling point, even away from the (Q-C) market."

"People love that. They want to support local," Mr. Krutzfeldt said. "We don't look at ourselves as competing against the locals -- Front Street, Bent River, Blue Cat. We push the Quad-City culture, in terms of the beer industry."

The economy also has helped MRDC in keeping residents in the region local, who can't afford to vacation farther away, Mr. Burchett said. "People are looking for those day trips, looking for something fun. There's enough to do in LeClaire now," he said, noting that he gets visitors from Des Moines, Peoria and Iowa City.

The $750,000 building addition will be split between the brewery and distillery, and owned and operated separately, with windows between the two.

"These are two totally separate businesses, operating totally independent of each other," Mr. Burchett said. "There will be projects that we do together. But from a legal standpoint, from a licensing standpoint, as manufacturers, they will be separate facilities. You won't be able to walk from the distillery into the brewery."

GRB also plans to buy property across the street in downtown Davenport for new offices, to allowexpansion of its tasting room, Mr. Krutzfeldt said. Its tasting hours are 4 to 9 p.m. MRDC offers daily tours on the hour from noon to 4 p.m., and First Friday events each month from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

For more information on the companies, visit mrdistilling.com and greatriverbrewery.com.