PHOTOS: Muscatine’s First Craft Distillery Is Open For Business
It's been a long and exciting journey for the two Muscatine families behind the town's first craft distillery, Knee-High Distilling Co. In August of 2022, we broke the news that the Spratts and the Burkampers started the only business of its kind in the Pearl City. The only thing that needed to be done was to create their hand-crafted spirits.
That time has come and Knee-High Distilling Co. can now be found in stores in Iowa.
Knee-High Distilling Co. Is Born
If you're from Iowa, Illinois, or the Midwest, you've heard the famous saying about corn, "knee high by the 4th of July." While most farmers would say that's a bad crop if corn is only that tall by Independence Day, people will now associate the first two words of that phrase with Muscatine's first craft distillery, Knee-High Distilling Co.
Founded on June 1, 2022, owners of Knee-High Distilling Co., Thad and Rachel Burkamper, and Jeremy and Kaely Spratt didn't reveal their new venture until August 15th. Even though plans to open the Pearl City's first craft distillery were made to be at the end of 2022, slow government processes, a break-in, and more slow government processes pushed things back a little further than anticipated.
But hey, things always get better with time, Just like whiskey, right?
I asked Thad what have been some of the most challenging parts of starting a new business like Knee-High Distilling Co. He told me,
"Building a business from nothing is already loaded with challenges, but a lot of extra scrutinies is rightly placed on food and consumables. The largest category for setbacks in our original timeline has been the steps we didn't know about until we got to that point. Starting a distillery sometimes felt like killing a hydra. One task gets knocked out (I see what he did there) then three more would pop up.
Thad said that seeing each member of the Knee-High team own their piece of the business and quickly gain the knowledge to knock down the next steps has been exceptional.
Even though there have been setbacks along the way, Thad says the growth of the team and the team members as individuals has been worth it.
"I look forward to seeing how we handle each new hurdle as they appear and watching this team conquer them."
Meet The Two Families Behind Knee-High Distilling Co.
Like the spirits made in Knee-High Distilling Co., so are the two families that founded Muscatine's first-of-its-kind business. Meet Jeremy and Kaely Spratt, and Rachel and Thad Burkamper.
As the story goes on their website, a few years ago Knee-High became the idea of two lifelong friends, Thad and Jeremy, while hanging out, pondering their futures, and the idea of opening and running a distillery.
In truth, the idea behind Knee-High became the brainchild of Thad, Rachel, Kaely, and Jeremy, and all four have poured their heart and souls into this business.
Both couples are parents to two boys and the brain trust behind Knee-High.
All four have official titles at Knee-High or KHDC. Jeremy is Knee-High's head of IT and Communications. Rachel is the Administrative Office and Support specialist. Kaely is the head of Marketing and Social Media. And Thad is the head of Sales and Operations.
While things are just getting underway, these four have big plans not only for Knee-High but themselves. Reminding Rachel that she's started a distillery with her husband Thad and her two best friends Jeremy and Kaely, I asked her what the goal is for them in the next 5 years and the next 10 years. She says that one of the goals for Knee-High is that it reaches beyond Muscatine and even the state of Iowa.
"As a group, we've had plenty of time to dream about the endless possibilities for the future of our company and ourselves. Over the next five to ten years, we would love to see our brand all over Iowa, which is our main focus, along with all of its surrounding states as we grow. If Knee-High Distilling Co. were to reach that amount of support, we would already have met our other goals.
Rachel said that one of those goals is that all four of them will be working solely at the distillery along with expanding the facility, which we'll talk about in a bit. Talking about the team and the future, she added,
"We've been a very strong team throughout this whole process, and we're excited to continue dreaming of and building our future."
Two of them continue to work full-time jobs, but all of them work full-time jobs running and operating Knee-High as they prepare to get their products on the shelves for Iowans to taste which is officially happening.
Opening Knee-High has been a dream for all four of them. When I asked Kaely what is the goal for Knee-High as a business, she, along with the other three, have high hopes for Muscatine's first craft distillery saying,
"We have so many things we want to do and accomplish and have new ideas popping up every day. One of our main goals, which has been consistent throughout the whole process, is to be successful enough that we can give back to our community. We have had such an amazing amount of support and would love to be able to give back in any way we can."
Echoing Rachel's comments, Kaely says the ultimate goal is for the four of them to be full-time at Knee-High, working side by side doing something they have a passion for. She's also thinking of Knee-High's future well down the road and wants this to be a business they can pass down to the next generation.
"...With the added bonus of building a business for our four boys if they chose to follow that path in the future."
What is Knee-High Making & How Can I Get It?
This is where the exciting part comes into play. Officially announced today, after months of hard work, determination, labeling, paperwork, build-outs, bottling, sealing, and packaging, Knee-High Distilling Co. spirits can now be found and purchased in stores!
The first shipment of their 80-proof vodka has been sent to the Iowa Alcoholic Beverages Division where it will be ready for distribution for stores that order it. Knowing the incredible support that the people Muscatine gives to its local businesses, you can expect to find bottles of Knee-High spirits at grocery stores, liquor stores, bars, and restaurants with a liquor license very soon.
If your favorite grocery store liquor department, liquor store, or bar isn't carrying Knee-High, ask them to. Tell them about this local business and that the demand for Knee-High is there because you're demanding it. The more you and other Knee-High supporters ask these businesses to carry their spirits, the easier it is to find! It's basic math.
If you work at a grocery store, liquor store, or bar, or you are an owner or manager of those types of businesses, don't be that local business that doesn't support another local business. Not a good look... Here is how to get ahold of the four to learn how to place your order.
For a little while, you won't be able to purchase bottles of Knee-High's spirits at their facility at 1100 Oregon St. in Muscatine. As of now, the facility is for the Spratts and the Burkampers to continue to operate, bottle, and ship. While all four have hopes of expanding in the future, Kaely and Rachel have given me a little more detail on that.
Adding to the goals for the four owners, Rachel said another goal is to open...
"...an expanded facility with a tasting/events center in downtown Muscatine, which could host an annual community charity event."
Kaely also touched on the goal of expanding the facility in the future saying,
"Another big [goal] is a tasting room of some sort! Right now we are focusing on continuing production as well as getting new quality products out, but would eventually love to have a much bigger space for tastings and events."
Currently, Knee-High operates out of the old Muscatine Fire Department's south station on Oregon St. The Muscatine FD moved down the road to 2124 Stewart Rd. in 2012. Grain Processing Corp bought the building from the City of Muscatine that same year, and in 2022, Grain Processing sold it to The Kent Group Inc. which now owns it and leases it to the Burkampers and Spratts.
Both families have taken the old fire station and have turned it into something brand new: Muscatine's first craft distillery.
Even though Knee-High is for Muscatine to claim as its own, people will be able to buy Knee-High in stores throughout Iowa. I asked Jeremy what it means to them to be able to share their products not only with consumers in Muscatine but with people throughout the state. He said,
"Iowans providing for Iowans is a pretty cool thing to be a part of. Iowa is our home and a pretty fantastic home at that. The idea that a bar in Council Bluffs, a grocery store in Davenport, and a locally-owned restaurant in Charles City can get our products is fantastic. With Knee-High Distilling Co. being an operation of four, it’s not easy to spread the word to every establishment in the state."
Jeremy says they have been lucky with what he calls "a bit of a grassroots experience" surrounding Knee-High Distilling Co. getting their brand's name spread throughout Iowa.
"We have friends and family all around the state asking, “How can we get your products in a store/restaurant/bar in our town?” We’ve been embracing that and getting those folks information to give to their local establishments on how to order. It’s a great way for us to provide for Muscatine, while other communities get introduced to us, and our products.
Jeremy, Rachel, Kaely, and Thad are working on creating and bottling what they call the "big 3":
Though Gin is something they will be tackling at a later time. They also touched on adding bourbon to the product list along with seasonal spirits and different flavored whiskeys and vodkas, like a Muscatine watermelon vodka. I mean, duh.
The four owners hinted that there also might be another special vodka coming sooner than we think with a very special partner. I guess we'll have to wait and see.
In the meantime, do me two favors:
- Ask your local Iowa grocery store (Fareway, Hy-Vee, etc.), bar, and liquor store to order Knee-High Distilling Co. spirits ASAP.
- Check out photos of inside the South Fire Station, now the home of Muscatine's first craft distillery, Knee-High Distilling Co.