Soon the entire country will know sweet tea-flavored alcohol.
This week, Kentucky-based distillery Buffalo Trace begins producing Wadmalaw Island's own Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka as part of a joint venture between Firefly and New Orleans-based Sazerac Co., Buffalo Trace's parent company.
Not even six months old, sweet tea vodka will find its way to nearly every state by Jan. 1, according to Steve Wyant, Sazerac's vice president of sales and marketing.
Since Firefly's April introduction, local liquor stores and bars have struggled to keep it stocked. Trying to meet demand, Firefly began supplementing production at an Orlando, Fla., distillery in August.
The 70-proof infusion currently is available in 11 states.
"They just quickly realized that they can't make enough to meet demand," Wyant said. "That's really the reason the partnership is working for us. We have the distribution network to get it set up quickly."
Firefly partner Scott Newitt said distribution limitations were only part of the problem. Between taxes and supplies, the small distillery couldn't afford to meet demand.
"We would have to stop production," Newitt said. "We didn't have any cash to buy bottles."
Newitt and Wyant would not reveal the terms of the joint venture, which has not yet been finalized. The joint venture does not include Firefly's other vodka, a muscadine wine flavor.
Newitt said Firefly hopes to unveil some new products in the coming months. All Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka sold in South Carolina will still originate on Wadmalaw.
Firefly representatives taught employees at Buffalo Trace how to craft Sweet Tea Vodka to match the original recipe. That recipe is the subject of a lawsuit filed by a former employee at Irvin-House Vineyards, where the Firefly distillery is based.
Richard Patrick alleges he developed the Sweet recipe, had only a verbal agreement with the Irvin-House managers and was pushed out two months after the product's launch.
Patrick's attorney, Clay McCullough, said his client dabbled in creating drinks while giving tours of the vineyard. McCullough called the lawsuit a "general disagreement" about Patrick's role at Firefly.
Newitt would not comment on the suit.
"The one thing everybody agrees on is it's a great product," McCullough said. "We all want it to succeed."
Local distillery to boost production; Grapevine - Sweet Tea Vodka, published 08/04/08Sweet tea vodka is a big hit; Firefly brand flying off shelf at most area stores, published 07/16/08
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