Recently we had the pleasure of spending time in Charleston, South Carolina and enjoyed a lot of the typical activities one might look forward to on a relaxing weekend alongside the historical charm of the downtown area. In spite of all of the history and ghost tours, we found Charleston to be very much alive with plenty of sites to see, friendly people and experiences for all ages, as well as a thriving culinary scene. It goes without saying, to us, a great culinary scene makes any trip that much more enjoyable. We, like many others, who are visiting areas outside of our normal day-to-day lives did a little research before traveling and had a good idea of all of the things we wanted to see as we headed out the door on our journey. As luck would have it on our trip, we had outstanding weather and the added luxury of lower crowds than expected. Ultimately this combination allowed us to explore downtown Charleston pretty thoroughly and enjoyably, at least according to our makeshift itinerary and expectations. The great weather really allowed us to spend more time outdoors checking off items on the list and also exploring outside of the downtown area. This enabled us to do some more of the short trips we had hoped to squeeze in if other attractions were unavailable.
After visiting some local sights on nearby John's Island, we were planning to head back to the hotel, and grab a bite to eat when it happened. Out of seemingly nowhere, a small roadside sign presented itself and indicated there was indeed another stop we needed to make. On the drive, as luck would have it, the sunlight came through the trees and hit that sign for just a moment, enough where the sun on metal created a flash and captured our attention. This set our sights directly towards the Charleston Distilling Company, located at 3548 Meek's Farm Rd, Johns Island, SC 29455
The Charleston Distillery, is located not far off the road 700, also known as Maybank Highway. As it came into our view, we were able to see a large building with some parking up front, an outdoor patio attached to a local craft coffee and brewery right next door. Right away, we knew this was going to be a good stop. Anytime you have likeminded businesses in the same area, it provides choices and that is always a good time. There were also two food trucks here at the time, a Sushi truck with the distillery and a Korean BBQ food truck next door.
Walking inside was refreshing; not only were we hit with a nice blast of air conditioning but also greeted warmly and enthusiastically as soon as the door closed behind us. After a short conversation, we learned some quick facts about the distillery and its history as well as the product lines. We also inquired about a tour, which we learned only runs on Saturdays, on the hour from 1pm to 5pm and costs $10. You may be familiar with The Charleston Distillery as they previously had a location on King Street but have since outgrown it. The new property on John's Island has room for 50 people in the tasting room, an outdoor patio and a 45-foot distilling column to deliver the goods! This distilling column, according to the team working behind the counter, is the tallest on the East Coast and it was quite a sight to see in person!
We made our way into the tasting room, which was spacious and had an outdoor patio of its own which is not visible from the front. What was nice to see, as many outdoor locations are, this is a dog friendly property as long as they are leashed. In the tasting room, there is a bar and various sized tables with a view of the still and a few televisions on the opposite wall. We weren't sure of the offerings at this point so we did what anyone would do - ordered a flight to try them all; at least the ones we thought we might like. This helped us narrow down the cocktail list as well. We learned while sitting at the bar that the bartenders here also help make their own mixers and syrups as we watched them create some peach puree.
The lineup of available spirits was impressive for a distillery of this size. We also had an opportunity to taste a 100% Blue Agave spirit and their Charleston Distillery Rum, which are not featured on the website at the moment. The Agave spirit may sound familiar since it is also called Tequila, however because it is made outside of Jalisco, Mexico it cannot be legally called Tequila. The rum, it had a great flavor on it's own without the spiced component however either would have made a great companion to a cold glass of Coca Cola for us if they didn't have so many more sips for us to taste.
The vodka is wheat based and had a nice balanced, smooth finish to it. If you are a little more adventurous, they have another vodka option with plenty of intrigue. Charleston Distilling has created a Carolina Reaper Vodka! If you are not familiar with the Carolina Reaper, it is currently one of, if not the hottest, peppers in the world as a hybrid of a Habanero and Ghost Pepper. This pepper was bred in South Carolina and the distillery gets the peppers it macerates from South Carolina. On this one do not fear the reaper completely, while it was spicy, it did not ruin our taste buds.
You may also wish to try Jasper's Gin, which is an American Style Gin based in corn and wheat that brings the Juniper out front and finished with a citrus flavor cutting through the herbs. This had a really high end feel to it, but was not pretentious at all. There are quite a few theories on why Gin has become so trendy again, but we feel its the versatility and sometimes the slight herbal bitterness that keeps it up front and center.
The smoothest sip in my opinion was Vesey's Bourbon, it had a very balanced flavor with a hint of vanilla, caramel and a mild spice. The bourbon came in at 94 proof and this was definitely something you can order neat or in an old fashioned to really enjoy the experience. There is a mix of corn, wheat and rye in the mash all working together. This family owned and operated distillery ages this mix in White American Oak barrels for a minimum of four years according to Steve Heilman who owns the distillery. We had a chance to watch them fill some barrels and chat with the distillation team. The actual scent of this could be intoxicating on it's own.
If you prefer a little more bite in your whiskey, look for the Crosstown Straight Rye. This wonderful spirit is 100% Rye and 100 proof to deliver a great cocktail or enjoyed on its own.
The wildcard on the flight was the Tolerance liqueur, it had such a sweet aroma of cinnamon we expected it to taste like a red hot candy and it did not. Looking back, that was probably a good thing. It seemed to give off a hint of spice from the ginger that was part of the recipe. While this isn't a bottle you would drink heavily into the night, it may serve well along some vanilla ice cream or as a digestif.
While getting up close and personal as the team began barrel aging some spirits, we learned just how much the team puts into the final product, which ultimately is how they will be judged. We have some great video footage that the team approved for a video here on Buzz with Your Cuz so hit that follow button so you can notified when we launch.
THE VERDICT - This is a family-owned distillery that prides itself on creating small batch craft liquors from grain to glass. We were not only told they mill, mash, ferment, distill, age, blend and bottle to deliver a high-quality product into your glass, from what we saw and tasted, we agree. The team at the distillery were warm and welcoming, they answered every question as if we were the only people in the room and they had plenty of other people there with us. We would highly recommend this as a stop on any trip to Charleston or surrounding areas, and do not be afraid of the distilled spirits. they won't haunt you when they are in your next cocktail.