Alcohol laws are wonky. Before Prohibition outlawed the manufacture and transportation of spirits, Americans had a robust appetite for the drink. In 1830, the average person drank buckets of the stuff (more than five gallons per person per year, compared to three gallons today), and took offense when the government imposed things like the whiskey tax, which led to one of the first insurgencies in America — the Whiskey Rebellion.
But eventually the teetotalers won, of course, and America was somewhat dry for 14 years before the 21st Amendment lifted the ban on alcohol and left us with a hodgepodge of state regulations that run the gamut from loose and liberal (Nevada allows liquor sales 24/7) to draconian (Massachusetts bans happy hours).
In South Carolina, alcohol regulations tend to protect the distributors, a powerful lobby in the state. Their job is to move liquor from one place (the maker) to the other (the consumer) and they don't want anybody to get in their way by, say, selling spirits where they are actually made or allowing brewers to serve a full pint of beer.
But as brewpubs and distilleries have proliferated, some of the more nonsensical laws are being chipped away. Brewpubs can serve alcohol now, and distillers can pour more than just a 1.5 ounce sample of pure booze.
Scott Blackwell and Ann Marshall of High Wire Distilling Co. spent the last state legislative session lobbying for a change in the laws so they could actually serve their spirits mixed in a drink to give consumers a better idea of what they offer.
"It's much more difficult to drink vodka straight than in a mixed drink," points out Marshall. And much more enjoyable.
Take, for instance, the Irish Iced Coffee, a clever twist on the classic Irish coffee served with a generous layer of sweet whipped cream on top of cold King Bean coffee spiked with High Wire's sorghum whiskey. I can't imagine someone trying that cocktail and not grabbing the recipe card and a bottle of sorghum to-go so they can replicate it at home.
The Irish Iced Coffee is one of seven year-round cocktails that are on offer at the High Wire bar being run by mixologist Ryan Romanowski, most recently of the Rarebit, who says the menu will change to incorporate seasonal ingredients and other local products like Jack Rudy Tonic and Bittermilk's mixers.
The new law has inspired a creative menu that offers a tour and up to two libations — and you can still choose a straight-up tasting flight of vodka, gin, rye, and amaro or a sampling of whiskeys. If you're looking for something to showcase the floral botanicals of the Hat Trick Gin, try the Bee's Knees, a bright and crisp drink that balances sour lemon with the sweetness of honey and lavender syrup. The acidity will probably keep you to one of these, but the Ruby Slipper could be a dangerous drink on a hot afternoon. The botanical gin mixed with ruby red grapefruit juice and topped with club soda and a stick of rosemary is a perfect porch-sipper. You could try it with the vodka too, but why do that when you can get it with Hat Trick Gin, High Wire's bestselling spirit.
The Moscow Mule also features the gin, but the star of this cocktail might just be Sweatman's Ginger Beer, a brew made with local ginger that is the perfect balance of spicy and sweet.
Classics like the gin and tonic and the old fashioned round out the menu. Marshall says they were eager to offer a cocktail menu for the locals. "Ninety percent of our visitors are tourists, but the cocktail program can attract a more local following."
The rules still limit the amount that can be served, but that three ounces equates to two cocktails, which is probably all you need from a place that can only stay open until 7 p.m.