Copper Horse Distilling

COLUMBIA, SC’S ONLY LIQUOR DISTILLERY By Liz Gunn || You may or may not be aware, but Columbia has its first liquor distillery. Okay, it’s probably not the first ever –but definitely the first legally operating still in Columbia in a very, very long time. I sat down with Richard…


liz gunnBy Liz Gunn || You may or may not be aware, but Columbia has its first liquor distillery. Okay, it’s probably not the first ever –but definitely the first legally operating still in Columbia in a very, very long time.

I sat down with Richard Baker, owner and operator of Copper Horse Distilling to talk about the business. At first it was a bit like talking to Bill Nye, The Science Guy. There is a lot of chemistry that goes into producing a high quality liquor. I won’t begin to try to explain it here, so you’ll just have to trust me.

Craft beer has become so popular in South Carolina, it leans toward trendy at this point. Don’t get me wrong – I love it. I love that Columbia now has three breweries and a growler shop all within the city limits. Now in addition to some tasty brews, Columbia also touts its first (and first class) distillery.

When you walk into Copper Horse, just behind Stronghold Gym on Huger Street, the first thing you notice is the equipment. It reminds me of something out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. It is by far the most exquisite piece of machinery I have ever encountered, and you can bet it has a hefty price tag to prove it.

 The biggest difference in opening a distillery and opening a brewery is that it’s legal to brew your own beer. You can hone your craft and your recipes at home before making the investment to open up shop. Liquor, however, cannot be legally distilled without federal regulation. You’re in this business or you’re out…or you’re breaking the law.

This is one reason you don’t see as many distilleries as you do breweries. The investment to get started is a cool seven figures, and you have to just hope you’ll be good at it once you do get up and running. It’s a highly regulated, extremely competitive business. Although someone might think it sounds like a “cool” job, at the end of the day when the mystique of being in the liquor business wears off, it’s a hard labor, manufacturing gig.

One has to wonder why anyone goes into this business with the high risk, high investment and high market saturation out there.  For Baker, it’s his art form. He is so passionate about what he does and it definitely shines through in the end product.

Right now Copper Horse is only producing high quality vodka, although a batch of bourbon is currently barreled and aging and will be ready in about 2017. As a vodka drinker, I can tell you that Copper Horse is on par with some of the most recognizable brands you can think of. It’s smooth with a nice finish and lacks that strange aftertaste that some lower end vodkas are known for.

Copper Horse is unfiltered, grain-to-bottle vodka made from the highest quality corn and grain sourced from Adluh Flour Mill, less than half a mile away. It doesn’t get much fresher than that. It is by anyone’s standards “small batch vodka”, although you won’t see that on the label. “Small batch” is really just a marketing term, and in no way regulated by the authorities.

Copper Horse vodka is now available at Greene’s, Morganelli’s and several other package stores in the midlands, Sumter, Rock Hill and beyond. It’s available at a growing number of restaurants in Columbia, including Bourbon on Main Street and Motor Supply Co. in the Vista. It’s becoming more widely available every day, so if you don’t see it on the menu, behind the bar or in your local liquor store – just ask for it!

Next month, Copper Horse will release a line of cream whiskey liqueurs. I had the chance to taste some while visiting the distillery, and now I can’t wait to get my hands on a bottle! There will be three flavors available, all derived from Baker’s family dessert recipes; Pecan Praline, Salted Chocolate Truffle and a rotating seasonal flavor. The first seasonal flavor, coming out December 1st, will be Red Velvet Peppermint.

The distillery is open for tours and tastings, mostly by appointment. Right now they’re open to the public on game days, when the Gamecocks are playing at home. You can stop by and purchase up to three bottles per person, as regulated by federal law, and if Baker is around he is happy to give you a tour and a sample.

Copper Horse vodka will be available for sampling at two upcoming events. First up, The Great American Whiskey Fair on October 16th at 701 Whaley in Columbia, and then at Bovinoche on October 18th in Ridgeway, SC.  Much like wine and beer, liquor is very subjective – so of course I recommend that you try it for yourself.

Liz Gunn is a wife, mom, travel enthusiast, food snob, daydreamer and lifelong Gamecock fan. A graduate of the University of South Carolina, she lives in Columbia, S.C. with her husband and daughter.

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aikencounty October 8, 2014 at 11:02 am

Edgefield has a still on the square.

The Colonel October 8, 2014 at 11:15 am

And two or three hundred of them tucked up in the hoots and holllers…

Smirks October 8, 2014 at 11:32 am

Not a big liquor fan. We do have a number of newer craft breweries popping up in the state, as well as a few that have been around for a little while. Good stuff.

Maybe one day in the not-so-distant future we’ll rival Colorado for great breweries? One can only hope anyways.

afmajret October 8, 2014 at 12:38 pm

If water taken from any of our lakes or rivers tasted as good as Rocky Mountain spring water, we might have a shot. Or, maybe we could get Colorado to pipe some of their water to us. Otherwise, no chance.

Tazmaniac October 8, 2014 at 12:00 pm

Seeing all that shiny copper is like a look into crackhead heaven. My Great Uncle was statewide recognized as a top grade still operator in Florida. I was always amazed at the people I met around the state who knew him or of him.

Gerald Belue October 8, 2014 at 12:04 pm

You should try haulin one up an old loggin road in Pickens County…in the dark.

Karl October 8, 2014 at 12:17 pm

Liz have you heard about the “Brew Bus” operating in Columbia yet?

????????? October 8, 2014 at 12:22 pm

I have heard about that – are they up & running yet??

Karl October 8, 2014 at 7:54 pm

I’m not sure but my friends are the creators of it, maybe I can get you a hook up.

????????? October 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm

Oh very cool – put me in touch with them! Thanks!

Squishy123 October 8, 2014 at 5:23 pm

So all those moonshine producers have to fork over a million dollars to go into business? People in Poland made potato vodka in their bathtubs during WWII.

????????? October 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm

According to the federal government yes…since about 1933.

Squishy123 October 9, 2014 at 9:14 am

You’d think they’d dress nicer with all that money… and visit a dentist now and again.

FastEddy23 October 8, 2014 at 8:16 pm

“… reminds me of something out of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory. …”

Meaning they gave you some for free? :>)

Search engine results: No scotch distilleries in SC found … :>(

????????? October 8, 2014 at 8:21 pm

I learned, during my tour, that Scotch is made from used Bourbon barrels. Bourbon, to be classified as such, must be made in a new barrel. So once the barrels are used, they’re shipped overseas to Scotland & Ireland to make scotch & Irish whiskey. The more you know!

FastEddy23 October 9, 2014 at 12:13 pm

Scotch is also made with wine and brandy barrels (many imported from Taxifornia). And the grains are different: (malted) barley being primary for scotch, corn is primary for bourbon.

Thomas October 9, 2014 at 5:52 am

The problem I have is their water source. Water has “memory”. While that is unsettled science, using recycled human waste for water is not. Water treatment plants recycle human waste separating solids from water, purifying through filtration then sold back to consumers as “public water”. I wouldn’t rely on lake water either. The fish fuck in it. Unless his company released scientific analysis that perhaps well water is free from chemical dumping and land fill “leakage”, I would not trust that either. Me? I filter all well water with four Berkey carbon filters before I drink it. Although the water is “bruised” atleast I am confident it is safe to drink.

All in favor, say “AYE”


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