Written by Jessica Farthing | Photos by Rob Kaufman
Hilton Head Distillery got its start in Greenville, S.C., as the Dark Corner, opening a sister spot on Hilton Head Island.
Though the original business was focused on whiskey, it seemed logical for Hilton Head’s tropical weather and beachy vibes to offer alcohol with a tiki flair. When the distillery hired Whitney Meriwether as a master distiller, the idea of focusing on rum was perfected.
Meriwether moved to Hilton Head in 2020 from his distiller position in Seattle, looking for a life change and sunny weather. For the last few years he worked to learn what the distillery offered and enhance the products. The idea was to change the business focus to an American rum house, drawing on the Caribbean methods of rum creation.
He focused on pure ingredients to an extreme rarely seen in distilling. There are no prepared flavors in the rums offered on the menu. The Toasted Coconut Rum is made from coconuts that were toasted and added to the distilling process.
The Dark Pineapple Rum is made when pineapples are cooked on charcoal grills, then added when the alcohol is in the barrel at a high proof. This allows the fruit flavors to be extracted into the rum while it ages.
The team spent the last few years creating natural rum flavors under the creative direction of Meriwether, who moved from distiller to general manager in 2022.
“Everything you see now on our menu is either Whitney’s original product or his reinvented interpretation of a product that we had previously,” said Michelle Swanson, Director of Operations and Marketing.
The menu inspired thoughts of sunshine and sandy toes. There were tastes of bananas, spices, cream from a local farm and coffee flavors from the Lowcountry’s own Corner Perk. When Meriwether found locally grown and dried chilis at a Hilton Head bodega, he bought them to add to the Mexican Chocolate Cake Rum, a palate pleaser that combined the flavors of cocoa nibs, milk chocolate, cream, cinnamon with a little heat.
Swanson’s personal favorite on the menu is the Solera Rum, aged for seven years in a series of port wine and bourbon casks using the largest Solera system in the continental United States.
“I love the flavor profile. It is rich, delicious, very sippable,” Swanson said. “I like to approach it the way a lot of people approach whiskey. You can drink it neat or on the rocks, or you can put it in a cocktail. It’s very elevated and unique. The rum actually moves to a new barrel every quarter, 36 different barrels.”
The result is rum with deep flavors of caramel and vanilla, smoky oak and tropical fruit. It can be enjoyed by itself or layered with other ingredients at the distillery’s in-house bar, where tiki cocktails enhance the rum offerings. There’s also food available for a complete night out, a series of small plates and sandwiches offered to cure any snack cravings. For those looking for non-alcoholic refreshment, the bar serves lemonade and agua fresca.
The staff is interested in making the distillery more than just a one-time visit.
“We love our tourists. We get a great crowd in there in the summer, but we also really want to be a place that locals want to come hang out,” said Swanson. “We don’t want it to feel like a one-and-done experience. There’s a lot of different options and you could go really big, but you could also just come and have a couple of drinks with your friends.”
The distillery offers a tour for those curious about the distilling process that lasts around an hour. Visitors get to walk through the entire production facility and enjoy a private tasting in the VIP area overlooking the equipment. There’s a full bottle shop with tastings, along with that cocktail bar, for those who aren’t interested in the tour.
Guests are almost sure to find their new favorite rum, now shipping to 42 states in case you run out. If you aren’t sure how to mix up a perfect rum beverage, they also host classes.
The distillery prides itself on authenticity and the quality of their ingredients. The result is a selection of rums full of flavor that offer an exciting and interesting tasting experience.
Ingredients 1.5 oz Hilton Head Atlantic Bourbon ½ oz Hilton Head Panela Rum 1.5 oz Darjeeling Tea ½ oz Lemon Juice ½ oz Simple Syrup Pinch of salt
Directions Add the ingredients into a shaker tin with ice, and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Strain into a rocks glass over a large ice cube, and garnish with a lemon twist.
Ingredients 3 oz Hilton Head Dark Pineapple Rum 1 oz Lime Juice ¾ oz Grenadine ¼ oz Falernum 2 dashes of Angostura Bitters Light Soda Water
Directions Place all ingredients into a shaker tin with ice and shake vigorously for 15 seconds. Fill a tall glass with nugget or crushed ice. Pour the cocktail over ice and top with soda water. Garnish with a generous mint leaf and silly straw.