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Firefly Distillery ready to light up new $10 million operation in North Charleston

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Firefly head distiller Jay Macmurphy pours a small amount of bourbon whiskey into a glass for tasting at the distillery's soon-to-open new location in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

On the banks of Noisette Creek in North Charleston, Firefly Distillery is about to put on a show.

Situated on what was an old landfill and trash transfer station in the middle of the state's third-largest city, the beverage maker will begin producing a variety of liquors when it opens in February on 16 acres between Spruill and South Rhett avenues near Park Circle.

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Firefly's Vendome copper still is in place at the firm's new distillery in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

The 21,000-square-foot main building will include a gift shop, event space, private meeting room, laboratory, large stills, tours and tastings along with plenty of space outdoors for food trucks with site-ready electricity hookups.

Also as part of the $10 million development, visitors will find about 400 parking spaces on pervious grounds and an expansive field for outdoor concerts against the backdrop of the Cooper River estuary.

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Firefly Distillery will offer several outdoor venues, including The Front Porch, where food trucks and bands can set up. Provided

At the end of the tour, six bartenders will be ready to serve tastings in a horseshoe-shaped bar in the center of a 1,380-square-foot room while two other bars will be set up in the corners.

Twenty full-time employees will be onsite, including Sara Bennett, the new events manager for private and special events.

She pointed to an adjoining 1,380-square-foot room where 150 people can fit standing or 75 can be seated.

Not far from the main building, a newly built, 4,000-square-foot warehouse can hold up to 600 barrels of aging liquor. Lining part of the building now are about 200 wooden casks of bourbon, some of it aging six to seven years after being made at the distillery's current Wadmalaw location.

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Construction workers continue building Firefly's new distillery in North Charleston. It's expected to open in February. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Co-owners Scott and Trisha Newitt and Jim and Ann Irvin have been working on the project for five years along with head distiller Jay Macmurphy. They eventually bought the property from the city for $875,000 in 2017 and then hauled in 45,000 yards of dirt to cap the former solid waste site. The dump sprang up in the 1940s near the former Navy base when North Charleston wasn't a city and then became a trash drop-off site in the 1980s after the city was incorporated in 1972.

"We've taken a site that didn't produce any revenue for the city and it will now bring new property and sales tax revenue to them," Newitt said.

Visitors will enter the site off of Spruill Avenue near Charleston Glass Co.

Inside the main building, guests will find reclaimed barn wood as well as pieces of the old tin roof from the original Wadmalaw site tacked on the upper part of the walls.

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Barrels of bourbon whiskey are stored in a warehouse during the aging process at Firefly's new distillery in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

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In the production room, a new 500-gallon Vendome copper still was recently installed and is slated to produce its first batch of bourbon on Leap Day, Feb. 29.

Macmurphy likened the new copper still, made in bourbon- country Kentucky, to an oil refinery with the crude oil at the bottom and then improving higher as motor oil, diesel, gasoline and jet fuel at the top.

"You get a more purified product at the top," he said.

A copper still is preferred because it leaves a better-tasting product.

"When distilling in copper, the copper reacts on a molecular level with the sulfurs put out by the fermenting yeast," according to online liquor follower Distillery Trail. "It 'cancels-out' the sulfur taste which would otherwise be bitter and not as smooth."

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Firefly's new distillery is under construction in North Charleston and is expected to open in late February. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Near the copper still are four 4,000-gallon bulk alcohol containers, two 2,000-gallon tanks and two smaller 1,200-gallon blending vats.

Altogether, 26 different products will flow from the new facility, including its popular Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka.

The owners estimate they can make 150,000 cases a year of all of Firefly's offerings.

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A bottle of Firefly's bourbon whiskey sits inside a warehouse at the distillery's soon-to-open new location in North Charleston. Gavin McIntyre/Staff

Outdoor space, called The Field, can host concerts for up to 5,000 people. A concrete pad is being installed in a corner where entertainers can set up stages for large events. Next to the distillery's property, the city plans to build a boardwalk from Rivers Avenue to the Cooper River along Noisette Creek, Newitt said.

"It will be a blueway for boaters without motors such as paddleboarders," Newitt said. "You feel like you are in the middle of the country here."

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Firefly Distillery recently installed its new copper still in its new location, opening early next year in North Charleston. Provided

The project wasn't originally supposed to be off of Spruill Avenue. The first plan was to locate on Azalea Drive in a new complex called The Bend with Charleston's Palmetto Brewery, but Firefly later pulled out for the site near Park Circle.

Palmetto Brewery later decided to stay downtown off Huger Street, and The Bend now features an open-air structure with a butterfly roof that can host about 2,000 people as an event space.

Seeing the Firefly project nearing the finish line, Jim Irvin, who once owned Irvin-House Vineyards on Wadmalaw Island, said, "It's going to make my marriage and my life a whole lot easier."

Reach Warren L. Wise at 843-937-5524. Follow him on Twitter @warrenlancewise.

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