The City Magazine Since 1975

The Future Smells Like Whiskey

Many of Charleston’s distillers got into the game through a desire to make bourbon, and now those ambitions are coming to fruition

With plenty of barrels socked away on the old Navy base, High Wire’s Marshall and Blackwell are doubling down on Jimmy Red Bourbon. They recently hired their first field sales rep, who is out promoting the brand in the 10 states where High Wire has distribution. “We’re planning to hire some additional sales people in those key markets next year,” Blackwell says. “Texas, Florida, New York.”

Sweet Tea Vodka remains Firefly’s anchor, but “in the next five years,” Newitt predicts, “we’re going to grow our whiskeys and bourbons.” Over the years, they have sold various flavored whiskeys under the Firefly label, but in 2021 the distillery launched a separate brand called Bend & Steal. It’s a combination of four- and six-year-old whiskeys from Kentucky and Indiana along with six-year-old bourbon distilled by Firefly in South Carolina. “We ‘bend’ barrels that we steal from our friends,” Newitt explains, since they take whiskey from other distilleries and blend it with their own South Carolina-made spirits.

Coffee-infused vodka is still Cannon Distillery’s sustaining product, but Kris Kincaid says they’re getting their whiskey production really dialed-in. They’re digging deep into different heirloom corns, which they source from Greg Johnsman of Marsh Hen Mill. “We’re doing his ‘Sea Island’ blue corn,” Kincaid says, “which makes a great bourbon. We’re doing his ‘Unicorn,’ the pink corn, which makes a really interesting bourbon, too.” In 2023 they secured 25,000 pounds of an even rarer heirloom corn, but Kincaid is keeping that one close to his vest for now.

“This corn is really, really rare,” he says, noting that it was likely here before European settlers. “This could be the first true American corn whiskey, you know, that we’re recreating right here in Charleston.”