After 102 years (and 13 days), York County, South Carolina once again has its own legal* booze maker. Sleeping Giant Distillery opened its doors to the public at the end of January, marking an end to a very long dry spell.
(*The legal distinction is key, because honestly who knows how many backyard stills and moonshine operations have been keeping the folks of York County happy for generations.)
The project is the creation of brothers William and Patrick Bradner, who have transformed a historic cotton grading building in downtown Rock Hill into a distillery specializing in rum.
The brothers had originally considered opening a brewery, but after realizing how many breweries were in the area they decided to move on to spirits. Why rum?
“Well, one reason is that I like to drink rum,” William Bradner said, laughing, in an interview with Eater Carolinas last year prior to the distillery opening, “I’m a big fan of aged rum, I prefer that over whiskey or bourbon. Rum is also versatile, and not a lot of rum is produced in the Carolinas.”
The pair opened Sleeping Giant with three products. The flagship Silver Rum is 40% ABV and distilled from panela, the unrefined cane sugar common to Central and South America. The semi-sweet Coffee Rum is made with beans from nearby Knowledge Perk, while the Lemongrass and Vanilla Rum Liqueur is back-sweeted with the same panela used to make the spirit.
“We want to make some unique things and not just go with the status quo,” Bradner explained.
The journey to opening the county’s first legal distillery was a long one — when you’re the first legal distillery in town in generations, things can take some time.. The brothers originally purchased the historic early-1900s building more than six years ago and spent a considerable amount of time bringing it up to code, including spending more than a year and a half going back and forth between Rock Hill authorities and the architects. Once plans were approved it was another two years of construction before the real work of installing equipment and distilling could begin.
“They didn’t know what to do with us, we were kind of the guinea pig,” Bradner recalled. Luckily all that time spent in the planning and construction process gave him the opportunity to test, and test, and test the recipes that eventually became Sleeping Giant’s first line of products.
The distillery is currently open on Fridays and Saturdays for tours and sales. Due to South Carolina law customers can only taste the product when they book a tour, but are welcome to walk in when the distillery is open to purchase a bottle, limited to three bottles per person per day. Tours, with tastings, can be booked on the distillery’s website.
Bradner noted that there is currently a bill before the South Carolina legislature that would loosen restrictions on local distilleries, allowing them to sell up to a case of liquor at a time to customers, among other modernizations.
For now though the brothers are basking in the boozy glow of resurrecting a history of distilling in York County. “It’s been a long time coming,” said Bradner.
“We put the time and effort into every single bottle,” he added, and with everything in the tiny, 1200 square foot microdistillery made (and bottled, and labeled) by hand, visitors have the opportunity to get up close and personal with the entire distillation process. No having to flip the room around before the sheriff arrives anymore.
• Sleeping Giant Distillery [Official]