A mix-up in mail led to a business partnership that formed a one-of-a-kind business in the world. And it’s based in North Charleston.
Earl Hewlette and O.Z. “Ty” Tyler used to live in the same Mount Pleasant neighborhood, but occasionally their mail wound up in each other’s boxes in I’On.
While returning it one day in 2003, Tyler, a chemist who led his own technology company, told Hewlette about a unique patent he was working on with his son-in-law Edward W. Bailey, an architect from Adams Run.
They chatted a bit about an effort by Tyler and Bailey to vastly reduce the amount of time it takes to age distilled liquors, making the taste more smooth without affecting the ethyl-alcohol content but nearly ridding the product of other alcohols. Tyler even brought Hewlette samples of some of the product to try as he perfected the process over several months.
After working on the project for nearly seven years, Tyler and Bailey won their patent in 2006. Hewlette came on board, and Terressentia Corp. was born. In 2010, the S.C. Research Authority through its S.C. Launch program provided $200,000 in startup money and another $100,000 in 2012 to help grow the company, which they said had “revolutionary technology.”
Some distillers of dark-colored spirits normally age their products in 52-gallon oak barrels so the wood can soak up and filter out some of the impurities and bitterness. Others stored in metal containers have to be distilled several times and filtered to arrive at the finished beverage.
Terressentia’s process purifies distilled alcohol in just a few hours, eliminating oak-barrel aging, which can take years for some liquors, and the complicated distillation of other liquors. At the same time, it provides a smoother taste and less-pungent smell, company officials said.
Nothing is distilled at the Palmetto Commerce Park factory. Producers send their distilled products and suppliers provide packaging materials, including boxes and bottles, to Terressentia where the purification process takes place and workers then fill bottles, attach labels and box up finished products to be shipped out.
Among the liquors handled at the 25,000-square-foot facility: tequila from Mexico; brandy from France; cachaca from Brazil and baijiu, made from sorghum, from China, as well as U.S. and Russian vodkas.
The company’s gross revenue is expected to quadruple this year to $4 million and double next year to $8 million, based on company projections.
Huge 260-gallon, pallet-sized plastic containers that resemble oversized water jugs with a spout on the lower side serve as purifying vessels.
“Once it’s processed, we let it sit for a few days to rest and let the reactions complete themselves,” said Hewlette, who is CEO.
After the spirits are packaged, a distributor picks them up and delivers them to liquor stores, which then sell the products to retail customers and restaurants and bars.
Hewlette, a licensed lawyer, wasn’t sold on the idea at first.
“By nature, I’m skeptical,” he said. “But we had some early scientific data to support changes happening in the liquid. After doing thousands of tastings, you experience the immediate difference before and after in the product.”
The company wasn’t always in Palmetto Commerce Park. It started with four employees in 2007 in a small, 6,000-square-foot building in Stark Industrial Park off Leeds Avenue before moving three years ago to its current site off Patriot Boulevard.
By the end of the year, it won’t be there any longer. Its lease is expiring with IFA Rotorion North America LLC, a neighboring drive-shaft maker that needs the space for expansion.
Terressentia will move in the latter half of the year to another site on Palmetto Commerce Parkway behind the fire station near Ladson Road. The new building will measure 37,000 square feet, about 48 percent larger than its existing space. The work force could expand, too, from the existing 30 employees, Hewlette said.
“As we grow, we will continue to hire more people,” he said.
Hewlette’s wife, Paula, an ordained minister, is also heavily involved in the company, marketing its Local Choice-labeled line of liquors already sold in 15 states and five countries. Two dollars from every bottle sold goes to select charities such as Special Olympics, March of Dimes or the Ronald McDonald House, among others.
“We are creating our own products and donating the profits back into the community,” she said.
Paula added that many of the company’s branded products have gone up against top-shelf liquors in blind taste tests and won.
“It’s that good,” she said.
Tyler, one of the inventors, has always worked for different companies such as Dupont or B.F. Goodrich to help make products such as washable wallpaper, egg cartons or anti-bacterial surfaces.
In 1984, he started his own company, OZ Enterprises which morphed into OZ Technologies.
Bailey, Tyler’s son-in-law, is an architect who designed the purification system. After conversations with Hewlette, a former CEO of Destination Hotels and Resorts, which included Wild Dunes Resort on the Isle of Palms, Tyler realized Hewlette knew the right people to bring the company to fruition.
With about 80 shareholders, Terressentia’s principals believe there are numerous other applications outside alcohol, such as perfumes, that remain untapped.
Among the Local Choice flavors are Black Cherry Flavored Bourbon Whiskey, Strawberry Kiwi Vodka and a mango made of vodka and rum. A one-liter bottle sells for about $20-$25, depending on the liquor.
“I am convinced that people can put together combinations that taste good in ways they have never done before,” Tyler said.
“We are only limited by people’s imaginations and their pocketbooks,” Paula Hewlette said.
Reach Warren L.Wise at 843-937-5524 or twitter.com/warrenlancewise.