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15 min with Brent Stephens

15 min with Brent Stephens
November 2014
This summer, after seven years of studying at distilleries all over the globe, the former attorney opened Charleston Distilling Co. on Upper King. Here, get to know the man behind the spirits

CM: Why did you choose to open the distillery in Charleston?
BS: I’m from Hilton Head, and I spent a lot of time here growing up, so I knew about the great food and bar scene. Upper King always has something new happening, so that’s where I wanted to be.

CM: You worked as a lawyer before you became an entrepreneur and distiller. What sparked the career change?
BS: The first time I went to a tequila distillery in Mexico, I was hooked. I liked that it was about being meticulous yet creative—sort of like law.

CM: What was one of the more surprising things about opening the distillery?
BS: That you have to wear so many hats. We’re a retail establishment, so I’m leading tastings and giving daily tours. The distillery space can also be rented for private parties, so I work those. And then some days, I’m up at the farm milling grains.

CM: You source your ingredients from Flowers Farm in Summerton, about an hour north of Charleston. How did that partnership come about?
BS: Prior to even starting construction on the building, we sat down with Bubba Flowers and told him the grains we’d need—corn, rye, and wheat. We’ve even sourced some ingredients for our upcoming flavored liqueurs from the farm, like pecans. We harvest all the grains and mill them there, then haul them down to the distillery and get to work.

CM: You’ve got a stunning storefront. Tell us about the space.
BS: You’ll never have a better billboard than a giant copper façade on King Street! And seeing how our spirits are made right here leaves a greater impression than just spotting the bottle in a store.

CM: You’ve got the night off and you’re ready to hit the town. Where are you headed?
BS: Proof has these amazing meatballs, and they make a cocktail called The Fitzgerald using our gin. I often start there, and then go for gnudi at The Macintosh or crudo at Indaco. Union Provisions also makes a great cocktail, The Rosemary Pear, with our vodka. I almost always eat at the bar; I love the bar scene, talking to bartenders. I probably only sit down for a full meal at a restaurant table once a month.

CM: Is that how you unwind?
BS: Honestly, relaxing just involves me going home and prepping for dinner. I eat a lot differently than when I’m out. I like to do Cajun and Vietnamese at home. I have quite the collection of hot sauces, with each one belonging to a certain dish.

CM: What’s on the horizon for you and Charleston Distilling Co.?
BS: Getting our barrel-aged gin out to customers and preparing to release some new spirits. One is a ginger liqueur, which will be available year-round, but we’re also working on seasonals, like our pecan liqueur that will be out in late winter. We’re expanding distribution beyond South Carolina, but our priority will always be Charleston.