On Sunday, people were three-deep to order at the Cody Road Cocktail House bar at Mississippi River Distilling Co. in LeClaire. They were joined by guests gathered inside and outside to enjoy their beverages, crafted with the company's spirits.
Until Saturday, the distillery had not been able to sell its spirits by the glass. Nor could it charge for hourly tours and samples, accept tips, or sell more than two bottles of liquor per day to a customer.
“We thought, 'Why can’t we do what they're doing here in Iowa? Why can’t we do what wineries and breweries do?'” said Garrett Burchett, who owns the distillery and cocktail house with his brother, Ryan Burchett.
In 2012, two years after they opened the distillery, they started talking to legislators, shaking hands, and sharing the brand's story and inviting top officials to the distillery.
It took five years to convince lawmakers to update Prohibition-era regulations. After the bill became law in May, the Burchetts set about transforming their tasting room into a bar, with capacity for about 100 people, and an outdoor patio overlooking the Mississippi River. They crafted a menu that includes about 20 cocktails and a featured drink of the month.
The Burchetts opened Cody Road Cocktail House the first day they were legally able — July 1 — making it the first in the state to be licensed to sell cocktails.
Bob and Beth Busch of Waverly, Iowa, visited Sunday after they came to the area for a wedding.
"It's been on our radar for a long time," Beth said, as they sipped their drinks indoors. Bob enjoyed a Purple Passion with bourbon, while Beth had a strawberry lemonade cocktail. "This is our first time in a distillery."
"We appreciate that the Iowa laws have changed to allow us to taste the product," Bob said.
"It's great," said Pat Ricketts of Blue Grass. She appreciated being able to have one drink and not have to buy a bottle. Her daughter Carrie Ricketts of Davenport, and sister-in-law Faith Pinault of Davenport, were with her at an outdoor table.
"It's only fair that the distilleries get the same equal treatment as breweries," Carrie Ricketts said. "It just makes sense."
Nearby was Jane Dunham of Clinton, who visited with her daughter Arian Sullivan of Cedar Falls, Iowa.
"I'm on a break from my job. We always look for something to do," Sullivan said as she sipped her Moscow Mule.
Being able to better serve their customers helps their brand, the Burchetts said.
Mississippi River Distilling Co. already distributed products in more than 30 states and at local bars and restaurants, but until the law went into effect, Garrett and Ryan Burchett felt like they were falling behind.
“When we opened, we thought tourism was an important aspect, and that’s why we opened in the location that we did,” Garrett Burchett said. “At the time, we thought that was enough.”
But 60,000 people are visiting the distillery each year.
“The result of that is we're giving away a lot of free samples,” Garrett Burchett said. “By law, we had to give that away."
Now that's changed. The Cocktail House "is an extension of our brand; we'll have old-fashioned cocktails made with local and homemade ingredients,” Garrett Burchett said. “We can only serve what we produce here.”
“It’s like the business is starting over,” Ryan Burchett said. “We’re changing everything we do in a way.”
Free tours and tastings will continue, but patrons can also linger, if they choose. The cocktail house’s hours will mirror its neighbor, Green Tree Brewery.
“We were driving people to do tours and not get too comfortable," Ryann Burchett said. "Now, we want them to get comfortable and make it a regular stop.”