The Surprising, Boozy Rise of an Island Moonshiner
The Daufuskie Island Rum Company has grown across the Southeast–while operating on a South Carolina island that lacks a single bridge or road to the mainland. This story originally appeared on Inc.com.
Editor’s note: This tour of small businesses across the country highlights the imagination, diversity, and resilience of American enterprise.
The knock at the door, early in the morning, was expected. The moonshiner had been tipped off about the routine inspection. He always was.
The revenuers searched his house and found nothing. They would have left with nothing, too. But outside, where the sun hung low over the Atlantic and waves pounded the beach, they spotted footprints in the dew. As the chill air gradually gave way to oppressive humidity, they followed the track through the forest until they found the hidden stash. The revenuers collected the moonshine, along with the moonshiner, and sailed back to the mainland.
Not long after, the moonshiner returned. “What happened?” everybody asked. “How’d you get back so quick?”
“Well, by the time we got over there,” replied the moonshiner, “the evidence was gone.”
Almost a century later, 46-year-old Tyler Gerow tells this story about his outlaw great-grandfather while standing in the distillery room of the Daufuskie Island Rum Company in South Carolina. The business where he works as a jack-of-all-trades is within walking distance of those long-ago moonshine stills.
Daufuskie Island–which sits off the Georgia border–is just five miles long and three miles wide, and home to around 425 full-time residents. Everyone knows everyone, which is how Gerow met Tony Chase, 56, the founder, CEO, and master distiller of the company, which opened its doors in December 2014.
No bridges or roads connect Daufuskie Island to the mainland. You go by boat or you don’t go at all.
Rum has long been associated with islands. It was first produced in the Caribbean in the 1600s, and many a pirate chugged it on tropical sands. But today, just three rum distilleries operate on islands in the U.S., according to Chase. The others are on Long Island, New York, and Maui, Hawaii.
Chase’s product has proven both popular and successful. His investors sunk $600,000 into getting the Daufuskie Island Rum Company off the ground, and he plans to return it all by mid-2017. In the past year and a half, the distillery has hosted over 6,500 visitors on paid tours (not counting those who come in just to buy rum or look around), a number that Chase says matches or exceeds his counterparts on South Carolina’s mainland.
Visitors have come from 49 states and 39 countries. More important to Chase: His company has become a local icon on an island often wary of newcomers.
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