What do bread and booze have in common? Fermentation: the scientific process whereby yeast and sugar break down to create alcohol. With breadmaking, the booze gets baked off, but distilling transforms that alcohol into quaffable gold. This symbiosis is the backbone behind High Wire Distilling Co.’s success.
Charleston’s first distillery since Prohibition, High Wire is owned by Scott Blackwell, the affable CIA-trained baker and former owner of Immaculate Baking Company. After selling his wholesome bakery, lifelong entrepreneur Blackwell was eager to start a new endeavor. A home brewer, he mused about opening a brewery to time with the booming craft beer industry. Yet, his friend, Christian Krogstad, co-owner of Portland-based House Spirits, suggested a distillery instead. “You don’t have a beard or a beer gut,” Krogstad joked. Plus, Charleston was without a distiller.
So, in 2013, Blackwell and his wife, Ann Marshall, dove into the booze biz. To create the high-quality, small-batch spirits they desired, the couple purchased a hand-hammered, German copper still and hired Dave Pickerell, the former Maker’s Mark distiller-turned-consultant, to advise them. Taking his grain know-how from oven to the still, Blackwell crafts High Wire’s offerings with culinary creativity. By fostering relationships with Southern farms and Clemson University’s agriculture program, Blackwell has access to the choice ingredients — red corn, sugar cane, sorghum — that make his spirits shine.
The Hat Trick Botanical Gin is a lovely juniper-forward gin spiced with citrus, cardamom, and licorice. When aged in oak, the juniper “goes to the floor” as vanilla and orange flavors rise, making the barrel-aged Hat Trick Gin an excellent choice for Negronis. The malty, banana bread-like Quarter-Acre Sorghum Whiskey is a delicious, unique spirit inspired by Immaculate’s gluten-free products and John T. Edge’s (Southern Foodways Alliance) suggestion. Up next, rhum agricole; Blackwell is creating three rhums from three different farms to show how terroir-driven this sugarcane spirit is.
As is characteristic in great entrepreneurs, Blackwell is actively engaged in his community. The leftover sugarcane mash, known as bagasse, is sold as pig food to nearby farmers. The sorghum whiskey barrels give Charleston-made Red Clay Hot Sauce their barrel-aged goodness. Thanks to relationships with local chefs like Mike Lata (The Ordinary, FIG), High Wire is featured on cocktail lists around town.
Sample High Wire’s award-winning spirits side by side to taste Blackwell’s alchemy. In-depth tours are offered Thursday through Sunday at their warehouse space, whose parking lot has a cool Shepard Fairey mural. Added bonus: grab lunch at adjacent Butcher & Bee, whose scrumptious sandwiches will fortify your tasting.