Got Local Liquor? Our Growing Thirst for Craft Distillers

craft distillers

Raise a glass for locally-owned craft distillers!

Ever heard of artisinal vodka? You may be surprised to learn that craft distilling is a fairly new but growing industry. The American Distilling Institute says that micro-distilling has grown by 30 percent since January 2010, and the number of licensed craft distillers has doubled. Just as local food and local brews, local spirits are now all the rage.

“The renaissance has happened to wine, beer, bread, vegetables … even sauerkraut,” ADI President Bill Owens says of the craft revolution. Now, he says, is simply spirits’ turn, with the industry poised to imitate the rise of craft beers that America experienced in the ’90s.

And it’s already quite lucrative.

“The beauty of spirits is the margins are a lot better than cookies,” said Scott Blackwell, owner of High Wire Distilling Co. in downtown Charleston, South Carolina. “A case of cookies costs $18. A case of spirits costs $200. The effort that goes into one unit gets you a lot further dollar-wise.”

Craft distilleries make a big splash

firefly craft distillers

In my home state of South Carolina, micro-distilling is exploding, a microcosm of the larger national picture. According to The Post & Courier, they’re borrowing a tactic from West Coast spirit producers: the first distillery to open in Charleston is rife with local products, like Southern-grown herbs, corn, sugar cane, and sorghum.

“We live in a really vibrant agricultural community,” said Ann Marshall of High Wire Distilling Co. “There are a lot of things we can do.”

Although craft distillers aren’t strictly defined, the term generally refers to a distiller who produces under 100 gallons of spirits a year. In comparison, huge distilleries like Bacardi produce 100 gallons of spirits in a day.

Firefly Distillery on Wadmalaw Island was first on the scene in South Carolina, making the process easier for the craft distillers that would follow. Firefly paved the way for newcomers Charleston Distillery and Striped Pig Distillery by successfully lobbying for a reduction in the distillery licensing fee in 2009.

“When we got the law changed, it was the end of the world with the recession,” Scott Newitt, president of Wadmalaw Island’s Firefly Distillery, told The Post & Courier. “I think it’s starting to flourish now. But these craft distillers are going to have to come up with a story, like we did: We’re using all-American stuff and keeping it all Southern with sweet tea. Places struggle if they don’t have a story.”

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Image: Joel Olives