Whiskey Review: Mississippi River Distilling Cody Road Bourbon - The Whiskey Wash

Whiskey Review: Mississippi River Distilling Cody Road Bourbon

Mississippi River Distilling Cody Road BourbonEditor’s Note: The Whiskey Wash welcomes Mark Bilbrey to our writing staff. Also, this whiskey was provided to us a free sample to review by the party behind it. The Whiskey Wash, while appreciative of this, did keep full independent editorial control over this article.

I learned to drink in Iowa. I lived in Iowa City for a mere two years and wasn’t much of a tippler before arriving, but the Midwestern penchant for a warm buzz won me over during a long, cold winter. At that time, cheap beer was the drink of choice for most Iowans, but since then even the Hawkeye State has joined the boutique liquor craze. I, for one, trust those salt of the earth types to do it right.

Mississippi River Distillery, founded in 2010 by brothers Ryan and Garrett Burchett, offers carefully hand-crafted “grain to glass” liquors including gin, whiskey, vodka, and an array of creative limited releases. The distillery’s location—LeClaire, Iowa, a town of 4,000 on the northeastern edge of the Quad Cities area, nestled against the banks of the Mississippi—affords the Burchetts a wealth of fresh, local grain sourced exclusively from family-owned farms within a 25-mile radius of their operation. Their philosophy is to provide fresh-from-the-heartland spirits with artisan craftsmanship. Their copper still, a German contraption handmade by Kothe Distilling Technologies and lovingly dubbed “Rose” by the Burchett brothers, is the only imported aspect of their process.

Needless to say, no part of their Cody Road Bourbon is from Kentucky. Instead, it’s a Midwestern original, named after LeClaire legend Buffalo Bill Cody. The Mississippi River marketing scheme typically takes advantage of the distillery’s connection to the Mighty Mississippi, stylizing bottle labels after imagined steamboat heroes like “River Rose,” “River Baron,” and “River Pilot,” but the Cody Road bottle is more genuine and subtle. Its pentagonal shape shows off the golden, wheated bourbon’s light color, decorated only with a blue ribbon and an old-timey sepia photo.

The mash bill is wheat-forward, again in an effort to highlight the local grains that make their spirits unique. At 70% corn (straight out of LeClaire), 20% wheat, and 10% unmalted barley (both from Reynolds, Illinios, just a few miles across the river) without even a hint of rye, the result is a sweet, floral dram. They age it only a year, but do so in small barrels, thus maintaining the flavor of fresh grain without undermining the contribution of their Minnesotan oak barrels. Though produced in small batches, this bourbon has gained considerable recognition, including a Silver Medal at the 2013 San Francisco World Spirits Competition.

The accolades are well deserved. On one hand, this isn’t a whiskey I’d buy over and over—it’s too sweet, too sharp, too under-aged for my taste—but, on the other hand, it’s certainly unique and likely a hit with those who love wheaty bourbons like Maker’s and are searching for added variety within that category. I’m impressed with the distillers’ grain to glass approach and dedication to their local roots, including posting information about their grain farmers on their website. Mississippi River offers something different and without a doubt delicious.

Tasting Notes:

Vital Stats: 90 proof. Aged 1 year. 70% corn; 20% wheat, 10% unmalted barley. $30-35.

Appearance: Light amber, minimal legs.

Nose: Immediately and unmistakably sweet, clean, grassy, and floral.  A second sniff reveals candied apple and licorice.

Palate: Bright and fresh with a surprisingly creamy, viscous mouth feel. Notes of ripe pear, lightly caramelized sourdough, and citrus zest. The sweetness is awakened with ice, while the licorice flavor fades. It actually smells sweeter than it tastes, which is a bit of a relief.

Finish: Lasting tingle and consistent flavor from beginning to end.


I’m tempted to beg the distillers to leave it in the barrels for another year, but then again, that might ruin the sense of freshness this bourbon offers. The Burchett brothers want us to taste the Iowa farmlands—not the barrels—and on that premise, they deliver in remarkable fashion. I can imagine taking great joy in a glass of Cody Road on the rocks at a summer picnic, but on this dreary winter night in Portland, Oregon I’m fascinated with the grassy, one-of-a-kind flavor, but not desperate to pick up another bottle.


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