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How Firefly Distillery is fighting germs and lifting spirits

How Firefly Distillery is fighting germs and lifting spirits
June 2020

The distillery has reopned at its new Park Circle location





Firefly Distillery opened its new Park Circle complex in February.

When Firefly Distillery moved from Wadmalaw Island to its new 16-acre complex on Spruill Avenue near Park Circle in February, Charleston’s oldest working distillery, best known for its Sweet Tea Vodka, was “hitting on all pistons,” says head distiller Jay Macmurphy. For a month, the new location, which allowed Firefly to double its production space while quadrupling the volume—not to mention expand its offerings to include guided tours and tastings, live music on an outdoor stage, and weddings and business meetings—exceeded his and co-founder Scott Newitt’s expectations. “Every tour was full. We were almost to maximum capacity. Production was going gangbusters,” Macmurphy continues. They even parked a converted Airstream near the front porch and four-acre field as a cocktail truck, where visitors could sip on mixed drinks after taking a tour. “We were just having so much fun. It was just terrific—and this happened.”

On March 18, Firefly closed its doors to tours, tastings, and events amid orders for businesses to close in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus. The team quickly pivoted to Plan B, turning the Airstream into a retail shop, where customers could purchase up to three bottles of Firefly’s more than 25 spirits, including lemonade vodka, moonshine, and bourbon, as well as mixers and hand sanitizer.

Soon after the shutdown, Macmurphy and Newitt recognized the widespread demand for hand sanitizer and began working to produce cleanser using the equipment available at the facility. The process required them to establish new supply chains for some of the needed compounds and to acquire proper licenses and formulas. “It was very important to Jay that whatever we made was an approved formula by the FDA,” Newitt says.

Packaging proved difficult to find, so they bottled the hand sanitizer in liquor bottles they had on hand and produced their first batch available for public purchase on April 17. They distributed about 900 bottles to medical offices and other first responders and sold out of the remainder that they offered to the public for $25 a bottle within 24 hours. Macmurphy has been overseeing production and quality control. “Our lab is constantly testing the hand sanitizer, making sure it’s up to par,” he says. “It’s not something that we’re willing to fool around with.” They’ll produce the cleanser for as long as it’s needed.

Newitt acknowledges that sales of Firefly Spirits, which are offered wholesale across the country, have remained solid as people seek some comfort while remaining home. As of May 9, Firefly has reopened, resuming serving cocktails out of the Airstream and contining to host food trucks on Fridays and Saturdays. Macmurphy and Newitt say the new venue’s large outdoor spaces make it ideal for practicing social distancing. “It’s just a neat place to come and hang out, and we can accommodate all the safety needs of people,” says Newitt.

(Left) The distillery produced its first batch of hand sanitizer in April; (Right) Co-founder Scott Newitt

The Sweet Life

Firefly Distillery is open Monday through Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. for visitors to sip cocktails, participate in outdoor tastings, or relax while practicing social distancing in their expansive outdoor area.

  • Watch their social media video series ”Firefly at Home” for cocktail recipes using their spirits.
  • Hand sanitizer is for sale while supplies last.
  • Food trucks are on-site Fridays and Saturdays, and live music is added to the mix on Saturdays.
  • Firefly is hosting a Red Cross blood drive on June 19.
  • Visit fireflydistillery.com and their social media pages for schedules.