Both sides of the ten-mile stretch of two-lane country road leading to Firefly Distillery are dotted with towering oak trees and tall grasses interspersed with marshland views. Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina is only 22 miles and 30 minutes away from the sophistication of downtown Charleston but feels much farther.
Most visitors discover this tucked-in-the-woods micro-distillery by word-of-mouth, or by tasting a flavored vodka cocktail made with its spirits at a restaurant or bar. Housed in a rustic wooden structure, the tasting room isn’t fancy. Before entering, you pass the chicken coop and get a glimpse of grazing livestock, perhaps a cow or goat.
Everything here is made in small batches served with a hefty dose of low country hospitality. For $6, visitors belly up to an L-shaped bar and select from a paper menu up to six tastes (a total of 1.5 ounces) of 17 vodka, moonshine, whiskey, liqueur, and rum products that are poured into a souvenir shot glass you get to take home.
Wanda Fluery and Charlotte Smith were tending bar when we visited. Much like a game of Bingo, they enthusiastically called out the names of various spirits on the list, and people on our side of the bar shouted out when it was one of our six choices. After cleansing our palates with popcorn and water, and depending on what we liked sipping, they threw in a few “on the house” pours, like tart Southern Lemonade Vodka (available only at the distillery) and 100.7 proof White Lightning moonshine.
Sweet tea (made with sugar, tea and ice) is a staple of Southern life, served with most meals. So it’s not surprising that one of the distillery’s most popular products is Firefly Sweet Tea Flavored Vodka, distilled four times and infused with tea grown at the nearby Charleston Tea Plantation. Another favorite is the Peach Tea Flavored Vodka.
On Saturdays, the distillery is hopping with locals and tourists waiting for tastings so lines can extend out the door. These unique handcrafted spirits are sold by the bottle at the Distillery and many are distributed nationally. Firefly Distillery is co-located on the same 48-acre grounds as the Irvin House Vineyards, the only domestic winery in Charleston (also worth a visit).
IF YOU GO
6775 Bears Bluff Road, Wadmalaw Island, South Carolina
Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 11AM-5PM
This article by Irene S. Levine appeared in the Sunday Travel Section of the Chicago Tribune on November 1, 2015.