The road to Firefly Distillery is long and winding, lined with crooked trees dripping with Spanish moss. It’s not far from downtown Charleston, but this spot on Wadmalaw Island is miles from the refined hustle and bustle of South Carolina’s charming city. Keep an eye out for the little signs. There are three at the entrance but they’re small.
The tasting room is installed in a big barn. The distillery is in back — and that’s where all these delightful flavors are created. That isn’t open for tours but the tasting room has plenty of offerings to satisfy the thirsty visitor.
Sweet tea vodka put Firefly on the map. It was the first sweet tea vodka in 48 states (even though there are plenty of competitors now.) You can get it straight, skinny, flavored with peach or mint. And you can even get a sweet tea bourbon. Oh. My. As one of my drinking companions put it, “Party in your mouth.” Warm, rich, smooth.
The Charleston Tea Plantation, also on Wadmalaw, supplies all the tea for Firefly. And everything is produced right here. The exception is that bourbon. It’s imported from that great state of bourbon, Kentucky. And then it is blended with the tea to create Firefly’s sweet tea bourbon.
They like their flavors sweet here, which is fine with me, but for those who like their liquor lightning strength, there’s a straight moonshine. And if sweet’s your thing, honey, they’re waiting for you with coconut cake and banana pudding liqueur.
The distillery is on the property of Irvin House Vineyards, Charleston’s only winery. They grow muscadine grapes, big sweet grapes with thick skins and bitter seeds that like the heat and humidity of the Low Country.
They’ve been growing grapes here only since 2001 with the first wines bottled a mere two years later. They make 48,000 bottles a year here. Visitors can stop by — next door to Firefly — for a short video explaining their wines and a tasting of their two reds, two whites and rose which combines the red and white.
Mostly, they are sweet though the Tara Gold is a bit drier. These wines are designed to be drunk within a year of bottling.
Fun is the name of the game here. You know it when you arrive. Rows of leafy muscadine vines, dappled shade cooling the hot Charleston air, a rooster crowing in the distance. Inside, the bartenders are friendly. “Where y’all from?” they ask as they place the tasting glass before you.
Come again, they say as you leave. Come and stomp grapes in August or spend a Sippin’ Saturday here.
And, you know, I really want to. But until I can come back, I’ve got my sweet tea vodka to remind me of a dreamy afternoon on Wadmalaw Island.
© Text and photos Mary K. Tilghman