Larabees’ family business contributes to new apple whiskey

Posted December 4, 2013 at 10:04 am

larabee apples 2-color.tif

PHOTO: Phil and Laura Larabee have taken their apple orchard to a new level, contributing toward the manufacturing of apple-flavored whiskey. Working with the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, the Larabees provide the apples for the new, limited time offer of “Stone Fence” apple whiskey.

larabee apples 1-color.tif

PHOTO: This machine at the Mississippi River Distilling Company is filling the bottles with “Stone Fence” apple whiskey. The distillery filled 3,000 in three hours. (Photos submitted)

By Kim Brooks, Express Editor

Almost 20 years after Gravert’s Apple Orchard started, the family-run and operated business has fallen into a new venture: apple flavored whiskey.

Gravert’s Orchard is located 7 miles North of Sabula, Iowa, along the Great River Road National Scenic Byway. It is run by Laura (Gravert) Larabee and her mother Diane Gavert. Laura’s parents started the orchard in 1995. In 2003, Laura took over managing the orchard after her father passed away. She’s in charge of quality control, which includes orchard maintenance, pruning, spraying, picking the apples and producing the homemade apple cider. Diane handles marketing, accounting and sales. Laura’s husband Phil handles the orchard’s risk management operations and helps with sales. The Larabees’ children, Eva and Rachel, also work at the orchard. They help sort all of the different types of apples and work in the on-site general store.

In wanting to allow Laura’s mom to stay on the farm after her husband passed away, the Larabees decided to get involved in the business.

“But today,” added Phil, “it is also a way to give people the opportunity to experience the outdoors and being on a farm. Every year we are amazed by the number of people who have never been on a farm or even picked their own apples from trees.”

Gravert’s Orchard encompasses 3.3 acres and contains approximately 600 trees.

A few years ago, Phil, a member of the Monticello Lions Club, was at a club meeting in Welton, Iowa, when he started talking to former CBS Channel 2 meteorologist Ryan Burchett and his brother Garrett. Together, they own the Mississippi River Distilling Company in LeClaire, Iowa.

“I made mention about making apple flavored whiskey,” Phil said, and the ball started rolling.

About a year later, the Larabees went to visit the distillery. They brought up the idea again of the special whiskey to make available by December of 2013. Ryan Burchett did some digging and found a recipe that required apple cider mixed with whiskey.

The product is labeled “Stone Fence.” This is a seasonal whiskey that was just released to the public on Nov. 29. According to the Mississippi River Distilling Company’s website, “Stone Fence Apple Cider Whiskey is a journey back to the days of ‘Buffalo Bill’ Cody. Born near our distillery in LeClaire, Iowa, Bill is the namesake of our Cody Road whiskeys. Legend says his cocktail of choice was the Stone Fence: rye whiskey with apple cider. Our Cody Road Rye Whiskey comes out of the barrel at around 100 proof. We usually add water to it to take it down to bottling proof. This time, we added fresh apple cider from Gravert’s Apple Orchard in Sabula, Iowa, for a one of a kind flavor. A classic cocktail in a bottle for you!”

Phil said, “Since this was a special run, they only made 3,000 bottles of Stone Fence.” Approximately 1,500 bottles have already been pre-ordered! The Burchetts estimate the remaining bottles could sell out by this Christmas!

“About half the run will go to Illinois, Wisconsin, Missouri, Minnesota and Washington, D.C.,” added Phil. “The balance will be for sale at the distillery in LeClaire.”

The Mississippi River Distilling Company is planning a feature night for Stone Fence on Friday, Dec. 6, from 5:30-8 p.m. Phil and Laura Larabee will be in attendance.

“This was an opportunity for us to sell some of our product to a different clientele,” Phil said. “It’s a new venture for us.”

On Nov. 21, Phil went to the distillery to watch them bottle Stone Fence and witness the action in person. He said it took about 18 people to fill 3,000 bottles in three hours. Phil also tried his hand at the trade as well.

“I found the whiskey to be very smooth,” Phil said, testifying to the taste. “As Colonel Sherman Potter from the M.A.S.H. TV show said, ‘There’s not enough O’s in smooth to describe this.’

“There is already discussion about producing Stone Fence again in 2014,” he added. “Mississippi River Distilling Company is looking at experimenting with making hard cider for 2014-15.”

To add to the Gravert’s Orchard’s fame, Laura and her mother, Diane, recently received the Local Food Grower award from Jackson County Conservation.

To learn more about Gravert’s Orchard, visit For more on the products Mississippi River Distilling Company sells, check out