Since starting this blog nearly two years ago, I have changed the way I travel a bit. I still enjoy plenty of non-cocktail inspired adventures, but I also look for local spirits and distilleries. When I traveled to Charleston in June 2021, I visited some of the best Charleston distilleries, including one yet to open. If you’re traveling to Charleston on a weekend, make your distillery plans for Friday and Saturday. Distilleries are not allowed to be open on Sundays, although some are working to change that. There are also other restrictions when starting and operating a distillery, so you won’t find too many in existence. The first distillery in Charleston didn’t open until 2013. However, some enterprising entrepreneurs are navigating the laws and are operating these amazing Charleston distilleries.
Address: 311 Huger Street, Charleston, SC
Hours: Monday-Saturday, 10am-6pm | Closed Sundays
Spirits: Vodka; Botanical Gin; Barrel Rested Gin; Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon Whiskey; Rye Whiskey; Southern Amaro
Tours: Yes, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday at 11am, 1pm, 3pm, and 5pm
Tasting Room: Yes, with cocktails
High Wire Distilling Co. is the first distillery in Charleston since Prohibition. Founded by a husband and wife team, the distillery was seed funded by the sale of the couple’s bakery to General Mills. In late 2019/early 2020, the distillery moved its operations three blocks to a beautiful space with roughly five times the square footage. They upgraded their equipment and repurposed the older hybrid pot still and fermenting tanks to expand their production. I had a fantastic tour with one of the distillers, Alexander. He told me all about putting together the custom-built CARL still above. While all the spirits I tried were really good, the creation of the Jimmy Red Straight Bourbon has helped bring back this moonshiner’s corn from extinction. It’s definitely worth trying.
Address: 3548 Meeks Farm Road, Johns Island, SC
Hours: Wednesday-Saturday, 3-7pm | Closed Sunday-Tuesday
Spirits: Vodka; Carolina Reaper Pepper Vodka; Gin; Bourbon Barrel Gin; Tolerance Liqueur, Bourbon; Straight Rye
Tasting Room: Yes, with cocktails
With gorgeous indoor and outdoor space for tastings, Charleston Distilling Co. is a great place to visit. The family-owned distillery was founded in late 2013. Originally located on King Street in downtown Charleston, they relocated to a 10,000 square foot facility on Johns Island in December 2019. The distillery hosts food trucks on-site in case you need a little food to go with your flight. Two of their most interesting spirits are the Carolina Reaper Pepper Vodka and the Tolerance Liqueur. The Pepper Vodka pays homage to the famed local hot Carolina peppers while the Tolerance Liqueur is spicy in a different way. The liqueur is made with a whiskey base that’s distilled with cinnamon and ginger. Yum!
Address: 4201 Spruill Avenue, North Charleston, SC
Hours: Monday-Saturday, noon-6pm | Closed Sunday
Spirits: 25 spirits including: Vodka (Classic, Lemonade, Ruby Red, Sweet Tea, Skinny Sweet Tea); Moonshine (7 flavors); Rum (Sea Island Java, Sea Island Gold, Sea Island Spice); 7 Specialty Spirits including Low Country Dry Gin and Bourbon Ball Whiskey
Tours: Yes; a self-guided tour, followed by a tasting flight of six Firefly spirits
Tasting Room: Yes, and serves cocktails
Perhaps one of the most-well known of the Charleston distilleries, Firefly is famous for bringing the world sweet tea vodka. This product helped put the distillery on the map. They’ve now grown to a large lineup of spirits, many in the flavored vodka category. After a move to Park Circle in North Charleston, they are able to host everything from live music to weddings. Firefly is the oldest operating distillery in Charleston. They work hard to push liquor legislation forward for the state.
Address: 2225-A Old School Drive, Charleston, SC
Hours: Friday-Saturday, noon-5pm | Closed Sunday-Thursday
Spirits: Vodka (traditional and a seasonally flavored one); Gin; Rum; Spiced Rum; Whiskey
Tasting Room: Yes
The name for Striped Pig Distillery came from a time near Prohibition when finding a nip of alcohol was getting harder to do. Enterprising distillers would set up a tent and sell tickets to see the “oddity” of a striped pig. For five cents, you’d get a glass of booze. The story made for the perfect name for this family run business. I had a tour with the oldest of the owner’s eight children, all but two work for the business. The structure of the business is quite interesting. They make their trademark spirits, but they also work with celebrities who want to release a product. The holding company for Striped Pig also produces and bottles spirits for other small distillers. This makes for a vast tasting at the end of the tour, so the $20 price makes sense.
Address: 4208 Pace Street, North Charleston, SC
Hours: Tuesday-Sunday, 3-9pm | Closed Monday and Tuesday
Spirits: Vodka; Gin
Tours: Yes (private tours only)
Tasting Room: Yes, with cocktails
Nippitaty Distillery opened in 2017 and is still a one-man operation. Traxler Littlejohn took the leap into operating the first organic distillery in the state after years in corporate Human Resources. Focusing on organic vodka and gin, he’s already won a couple of awards for his efforts. The name Nippitaty is defined as “particularly good and strong liquor”. The distillery offers two seasonal spirits: Botanica Gin and a flavored vodka, Everything Nice. They recently secured funding to renovate a historic 1950’s Gulf Service Station with cathedral ceilings and exposed timber beams. According to their Facebook page, the public should be able to visit later this summer.
6. Beyond Distilling Company (coming soon)
Address: 2157 Rich St Suite 203, North Charleston, SC
Hours: Not yet open to the public
Spirits: Bourbon, Coconut Rum, Tropical Gin
Tasting Room: Yes, but it’s currently private
Perhaps my favorite Charleston distillery is one that’s yet to open. I had a fantastic behind-the-scenes look at Charleston’s newest distillery, Beyond Distilling, with one of the three owners, Tyler. The vision behind the brand is one of inclusion and belonging. The owners have family members on the autism spectrum and one of the partners, Kerianne, works with children with disabilities. The team behind the distillery wants to build a place where anyone can work and everyone feels welcome.
They have been working to build the space into a very hip but comfortable environment, both inside and out. There’s even a tiki bar next to the building where they are also growing botanicals (including bananas) for their Tropical Gin. The two master distillers, Tyler and Ryan, have been working together for years. They even brought down 300 barrels of bourbons and whiskeys they made in New York. The whiskey I sampled was incredible. I can’t wait until their products hit the market (hopefully in August 2021).
Other Notable Charleston Distilleries
Not all distilleries are meant to be open to the public. Some operate to create spirits that you’ll find in the marketplace. While others are small enough that it’s hard to accommodate visitors, like Kolani Distillers in Hawaii. And in the case of one of the following places, it’s not really a distillery but they follow South Carolina’s laws to be considered one.
I tried to visit this distillery back in November 2020, but the pandemic stepped in. When I visited Charleston, I wasn’t able to reach anyone at the distillery. I don’t believe they are open to the public but you can find their spirits on shelves. They make some really interesting products including two honey whiskeys and a triple espresso vodka. Definitely pick up a bottle if you see one.
I don’t want to get anyone in trouble, but Hardscoop is more ice cream and less distillery. Although their ice cream is boozy, they don’t actually distill spirits. (But they do have a still!) This is one of those South Carolina laws in practice. Apparently, if you sell alcohol as a food product–popsicles, ice cream, etc.–it’s not regulated as alcohol. This creates plenty of confusion, but the ice cream is delicious. You can find it all over the state and they ship nationwide (six pints at a time).
On March 8, 2021, Cannon Distillery announced that they are moving to James Island. Their Savannah Highway location closed but their products can still be found locally. They produce three kinds of vodka: Grit (corn vodka), Chai Noon, and Coffee Vodka. Keep an eye on their social media channels for information about the grand opening of the new facility.
And there you have the scoop on all of the Charleston distilleries. If you are looking for places to enjoy some of these in a cocktail, check out my bar guide for Charleston. Cheers!