Firefly Vodka benefits from new tasting law; breweries do not

By Ashley Fletcher Frampton
Published June 18, 2009

Firefly Distillery on Wadmalaw Island can offer tours and on-site tastings of its flavored vodkas under a law the S.C. General Assembly passed this year.

The law applies to all “microdistilleries” in South Carolina, though Firefly is the only one operating in the state.

But local breweries, which sought a similar law change allowing on-site sales and tastings of beer, did not win their battle this year; the legislation stalled in a committee.

Related story: Debate brewing between local beer brands, state law

Owners of local breweries have said the state’s restrictions against on-site sales and samplings are hurting the craft beer industry in South Carolina. Other states allow breweries to do those things.

Firefly Vodka benefits from new tasting law; breweries do notBrewery owners in Charleston have said the wholesalers lobby is a major opponent to passage of their version of the legislation to allow tasting and on-site sales.

Firefly co-owner Scott Newitt said getting the legislation passed for distilleries took two years and plenty of time hammering out details with wholesale, retail and other lobbyists.

He didn’t get everything he wanted. For instance, Newitt said he wanted to sell t-shirts and other Firefly products on-site, but provisions for that did not end up in the final bill.

But Newitt said the opportunity to offer tours and tastings will help increase tourism and make Firefly more competitive with bigger distilleries in other states that already offer tours and samples.

Tours and tastings at the Wadmalaw Island facility will start Aug. 1.

The new law limits vodka tastings to 1.5 ounces per person per day. Firefly Distillery will use shot glasses marked for quarter-ounce servings so it can offer up to six different types of liquor, Newitt said.

Firefly will soon offer eight types of liquor. Earlier this year, the company added several twists on its original Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka, offering lemon, peach, raspberry and mint flavored sweet tea vodkas. Later this year, the company will begin selling lemonade vodka, Newitt said.

And in early July, the company will launch two types of rum under the brand-name Sea Island Rum, he said.

(Photo is of Firefly owners with Gov. Mark Sanford)

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