LeClaire distillery’s international sales in limbo because of tariffs

“We’re all sitting around the room saying, ‘Why us? Why did you pick us to fight with?'”

LECLAIRE, Iowa-- The owner of a local distillery said his business overseas is suffering because of tariffs.

Ryan Burchett said Mississippi River Distilling Company sells to distributors in Germany, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. But the 10-25 percent tariffs on his whiskey and gin in some of those countries is causing them to stop ordering.

"Right now is when the Canadian orders would be coming in for the holidays," Burchett said. "And it sounds like it's kind of on hold."

Burchett said his bottles can cost twice as much as other brands on the same shelf. That makes customers think twice about buying.

"When our stuff shows up, they're slapping a cost on top of it as it shows up in port," he said.

These tariffs are part of the larger trade war going on between the U.S. and countries like China, Mexico and European Union nations. Burchett said small businesses are getting caught in the crossfire.

"[The White House is] fighting with the tools that they have, which in their minds is big business," Burchett explained. "'Can Harley-Davidson handle this? Can Ford Motor Company handle that?' There are local businessmen, be it farmers, whiskey makers, that are impacted. It's not big business. It's small, family businesses like us."

Burchett said the tariffs are hitting at a critical time. It's time for distributors to put in their holiday orders, but they're waiting to see how the tariffs play out.

"It's critical timing, and everything that happens politically can have a quick effect or make it linger through a critical time," he said.

Mississippi River Distilling Company expects to do 40 percent of its business for the year in the next four months. If markets start to close overseas, Burchett said he'll feel it.

"It's just going to take a real nice, little piece of business that's easy and lucrative for us and take it off the table, and we'll have to find it somewhere else," he said.

Burchett doesn't think he'll have to raise prices here at home to off-set the overseas tariffs. But he said he'll have to tighten his budget and look for new markets elsewhere.