Firefly Distillery: A side trip to Wadmalaw Island, SC

Some of you may recall that I recently returned from Charleston (Heading back again this week!). My team and I were actually dreading this past trip. Not because we don’t like Charleston, we love it, but because our agenda was jam packed with 12 hour working days in which we expected many heated exchanges. We did not plan to even see the light of day. How happy we were when the meetings started running ahead of schedule and everyone seemed to see eye to eye on the majority of the items discussed.  We actually ended up with some nice free time…during daylight! That made this trip the first time ever that we got to get out and see the Charleston area and hit those places we had always wanted to see, but never had the time for. One of those places was the Firefly Distillery. Maybe you’ve heard of their Sweet Tea vodka?

The first time I had Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka was last summer, but I’ve known about it since it first came out. Someone is always point it out at every bar we go to when we fly south for business. “Y’know, that Firefly there is made in Charleston!” “Yes, I know.” LOL!

The Firefly Distillery is located on Wadmalaw Island, about 30 miles from downtown Charleston. Those 30 miles take you to a whole other world! The ancient oak trees draped in layers of Spanish Moss, acres of former plantation farmland, and the occasional warning signs of alligator presence in nearby waters definitely evoke that classic Southern country feel with just a tinge of the exotic.

As you drive down the road that leads to the distillery (and Irvin House Vineyards), please watch where you are going! The grounds are home to many animals, including the adorable Harry (as in Harry Potter, Ann Irvin’s yorkie), pictured here who greeted us. Though many of Firefly’s furry (and feathered!) friends are penned, some like the doggies roam the area freely.

As I mentioned just a moment ago, the Firefly Distillery and Irvin House Vineyards share the same grounds.  The winery’s tasting room is the building to the right of the patio. Firefly’s tasting room is the building on the left side. We visited both, but for now let’s talk about the building on the left.

It was a very chilly day and as we stepped inside we were welcomed into a toasty, wood paneled room heated by a wood burning stove that made the room smell subtly of spices.  Manning the tasting bar that day were the lively and entertaining Bobby and McIver (I hope I got the spelling right, buddy!). Amazing guys! They were so much fun to speak and joke with as we went through the tastings.

First order of business was the tasting sheet. For $6, you are able to choose 6 of the 12 spirits made by the distillery. As we pondered our choices, Bobby told us a little about each to help us decide. Of these 12, only seven are available nationwide. The rest are only available in South Carolina (though a few of these have made it to Savannah). One is actually available only at the distillery.

Clearly, I had to include a few of the ones I couldn’t get back home! (I apparently have a pretty well stocked ABC store, because I was the only one that had seen all the Sweet Tea Vodka varieties.). Here are the six I chose (Plus a sneak peak!).

  • Firefly Handcrafted Vodka: This is the base for all of Firefly’s vodkas. Only available in South Carolina, it is distilled six times for a nice clean taste. Even at room temperature, I found it quite smooth and pleasant for sipping.
  • Lemonade Vodka: Made with all natural products and no preservatives, this vodka is only available at the Firefly Distillery due to its shelf life of six months. It smells like lemonade, it tastes like lemonade…yeah, drinking it in less than six months will not be a problem, although storing it in the freezer can add on a few more months. At 60 proof, which is just a smidge less strong than flavored rums such as Bacardi Limon, this Lemonade Vodka is just too easy to drink straight (which is exactly how it should be drunk in my opinion). Straight from the freezer on a hot summer day? Yes, please!
  • Mint Tea Vodka: Now, all of the Firefly’s Tea Vodkas are made with tea from their neighbor, the Charleston Tea Plantation. (A little bit of trivia, the Charleston Tea Plantation is the only producer of tea in North America). This tea vodka smells sweet and of fresh mint. Think of it as a mint tea with a really big kick. If you like mojitos, like I do, the spearmint in this sweet tea vodka provides a new and southern twist to that rum based classic. A “Mo-tea-to”, as Bobby called it.
  • Raspberry Tea Vodka: My dad would love this one, seeing that his favorite drink besides bourbon or Bacardi is a glass of ice cold raspberry sweet tea. This vodka smells exactly like raspberry tea. Watch out, though, it’s quite potent!
  • Sweet Tea Bourbon: As a whisky drinker, I had to try this one!  Of course, I also had to make sure it was real bourbon from Kentucky (My grandparents are from Kentucky, I can’t help it.) It was and Bobby even told me the name of the bourbon: Buffalo Trace. The Sweet Tea Bourbon is like a cocktail in a bottle. Though it smells like bourbon, don’t worry, it’s about 60 proof, like the Lemonade Vodka. I am quite excited about it as I can see myself drinking this over ice on my deck in the middle of summer…which I sadly can’t say about my Bushmills! I am happy to say that the Sweet Tea Bourbon is available nationwide. I have my local ABC store ordering some and they’re supposed to call me when it gets in. Can’t wait!

Now, here’s something you may not have known unless you spend a lot of time in South Carolina. Firefly also makes a line of rums at the Wadmalaw distillery: Sea Island Rum, named for the chain of tidal and barrier islands running down the Atlantic coast from South Carolina down to Florida, of which thirty three can be found in South Carolina (One of which is Parris Island! Marine brat, remember? Oooh rah!). These spirits are available in South Carolina and I believe this is the line that is also available in Savannah, Georgia.

  • Gold Rum: This one wasn’t on my list, but after Bobby told us this was the strongest spirit on the list everyone pointed at me, so I got half a splash. Wow! Yeah, it’s strong! You won’t find me drinking that one neat or on the rocks lol.  Like all the rums, this spirit is made from sugar grown in South Carolina, Florida, and Louisiana.  It is aged in the used barrels in which the Kentucky Trace bourbon is aged. Definitely see this as mixing well with coke!
  • Java Rum: One word, tiramisu! If you know what my birthday cupcakes were this year, you completely understand. Sooooo good! I think we all bought a bottle of this to take home.

Now for the sneak peak:  a new line of cordials! We came on a very lucky day. Not yet available for purchase (what a tease!), the Southern Accents line will make its debut in South Carolina possibly before Christmas 2011 (They’re expecting the first shipment of bottle labels during our upcoming trip!). These three cordials are inspired by traditional Southern desserts. I love that none of these are thick and syrupy, rather they had a mouth feel more like a nice dessert wine.

  • Banana Pudding: Reminds me of Christmas at my grandmother’s house where banana pudding with Nilla wafers is a holiday staple. This cordial tastes like banana pudding in liquid form. Very delicious!
  • Pecan Pie: Now how did they fit that entire pie into my tasting glass? It smells like toasted, candied pecans, which translates very well on the pallet. Think of a pecan pie made with rum or bourbon…without the rum or bourbon cooked out, lol!
  • Peach Cobbler: Ok, so this one doesn’t taste like Peach Cobbler…it tastes (and smells) just like a freshly picked summer peach! Nice and juicy, you’ll need someone to remind you that there’s alcohol in this one.

Needless to say, if we get lucky again on our next business trip, we may find ourselves back at Wadmalaw Island! (I really want that Banana Pudding cordial!!!)

~Ruth~

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3 responses to “Firefly Distillery: A side trip to Wadmalaw Island, SC

  1. Pingback: Firefly Sweet Tea Bourbon and Sea Island Java Rum Meet the Pineapple | corkandspoon

  2. It sounds like you ended up having a nice day. This is nice.

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