Although two Charleston distilleries beat Charleston Distilling Company to the starting gate, the King Street distillery’s owner and master distiller maintain their spirits will be worth the wait.
“We are making a much higher-end product,” owner Stephen Heilman says.
According to master distiller Brent Stephens, “other places are just trucking in alcohol,” referring to the common-but-contentious craft spirits practice of purchasing neutral grain spirits to cut with water or redistill (The American Distilling Institute neatly summarized both sides of the ongoing debate in a newsletter headline: “Bulk Neutral Spirits, Cheating, Or A Blank Canvas to Work With?”) By contrast, Stephens says, Charleston Distilling Company will handle every aspect of production, from milling the rice and corn for its vodka to barrel-aging its gin.
Earlier this week, the Post & Courier’s Abigail Darlington reported the distillery was on the brink of completing construction at 501 King Street. The distillery is aiming to finish its build-out by year’s end, but Heilman and Stephens don’t anticipate scheduling a grand opening before February.
“We have all of our approvals, so as soon as the building’s done, we can start distilling,” Heilman says.
Despite being in the throes of construction, the distillery already appears impressive: The complex includes a 1000-square foot barrel room; six fermenters and a pair of custom-made Kothe stills, each capable of turning out about 800 bottles per run. The bathroom facades are styled to look like hulking wooden barrels, and the tasting room bar will be covered in copper.
“They’ll be a lot of shiny, shiny, shiny components,” says Michael Elliott, whose family farm in Summerton will supply the distillery’s corn.
Heilman envisions tourists dropping by the distillery to shop the retail store and take tours which will emphasize spirits education.
“We could have opened much earlier in a warehouse,” he says. “But we really wanted to be downtown. I think it’s pretty cool to get people in here.”