LeCLAIRE — George Bernard Shaw called whiskey "liquid sunshine."

For a group of fans of the Mississippi River Distilling Company, bottling the company's spirits spreads light and warmth, too.

About mid-morning on a recent Thursday, 15 retirees formed an assembly line in the back the LeClaire distillery that crafts Cody Road Whiskey, along with gin, vodka and other spirits. Each had a job to do: unpacking, filling, sealing or repacking bottles. For a few of the volunteers, it was their first time on the job; others have been helping for years.

Since the distillery opened in 2010, its co-owners, brothers Ryan and Garrett Burchett, have invited fans to help bottle the products. Bottling days are scheduled about once a week.

A group can range from five to 25 people, distiller Kathryn Langford said. Bottling takes two to four hours, and then the group usually gets lunch and keeps chatting.

“It’s fun to see everybody. I get to hang out with them. Some of them I hang out with outside of here just because I’ve formed a relationship with them over the past few years,” Langford said. “It’s just mostly a social thing for a lot of them.”

“We’ve grown so our staff is here and our staff can do some of it, but we had so many volunteers that enjoyed it so much that we try to still do it,” Garrett Burchett said.

The events get people interested in the product, Ryan Burchett said. Some enjoy it so much they don’t want the distillery to get a bottling machine.

“We’ll have a product ready to go, and then send out an email a day or two in advance,” Ryan said. “Sometimes we can do 1,000 bottles an hour, depending on how many people we have.”

Most of the volunteers at the morning sessions are retirees, and people with day jobs help at evening sessions, he said. People who have toured the distillery will stay to help. Most live in the area, but some from as far away as Texas, Florida, Germany, Poland and Australia have helped, Garrett said.

Martha Jinks and her husband, who live in Milan, are among the volunteers. They have helped more than 500 times, she said.

“I enjoy the owners. I enjoy being here; I think it’s fun,” Jinks said. “I think it’s different, rather than staying home and pulling weeds. I just like the people mostly.”

Even after nine years, volunteer Harlan Pedrett, LeClaire, helps whenever he can. “Sometimes they even call me their bottling foreman,” Pedrett said, adding he goes to the distillery on Fridays to listen to the live music. On the first Friday of each month, the distillery hosts a social hour, and Pedrett has been the greeter for five or six years.

“It’s just good people. Ryan and Garrett are wonderful to work with, and we even get a sample every now and then,” Pedrett said.


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