To get a feel for the history of the Dark Corner, known for its mountainous area of Greenville County's Upcountry and for its moonshine, all you have to do is head to Main Street in downtown Greenville. On the north end you'll find Dark Corner Distillery. It's bringing the long-time illegal drink back to the area and it's gaining in popularity once again.
As you walk into Dark Corner Distillery you are brought back to a time long ago with history books, artifacts and pictures about the 1800s when Greenville County was the moonshine capital of the country. Walk a little further to the back of the distillery and you'll find plenty of moonshine made and bottled on site.
"It's reminiscent of what the Scots-Irish drank when they came over to the area. It's corn whisky in the tradition of the Dark Corner moonshine," says Joe Fenten, owner. "It tastes like the Earth. A lot of grain, corn, barley and a nutty flavor." Each bottle is $38 and sold in different batches.
Each batch is a bit different and Fenten enjoys discussing it with customers and showing them how the process is done. Customers can also enjoy samples. "It's 100 proof straight off the still and it's been well received."
Fenten and Richard Wenger, his business partner, met in New York. Fenten is an engineer and Wenger a home brewer. They continued to notice that spirits are now mass-produced and watered down. It inspired them to make something that would enlighten the palate.
In 2009, a South Carolina law was changed allowing for micro distilleries to sell three bottles per person per day and reduced the license fee.
"Our business plan was to go home and make moonshine," says Fenten, who says he was actually considered a goody-goody in high school and didn't drink beer or liquor. The Dark Corner Distillery owners have big plans for the future as they experiment with new flavors. One that Fenten is most excited about is the "Apple-achian Margarita" which he has trademarked and it will be available next year. Beer schnapps, which he calls "fruity pebbles with hops," is a citrus pale ale, which he is crafting now. Also on the horizon is a white muscadine eau de vie brandy.
Dark Corner has event space available for businesses and brings live bluegrass music once a month to downtown. Fenten also makes sure he stays within a 20-mile radius for goods that he sells in the store, from locally made jewelry to Shine glycerin body soap, made by his 9th grade teacher. "We try to create co-ops with local businesses," he explains.
The second biggest seller for the distillery is his new American oak barrels. For $55 you can pour in two and a half bottles of moonshine and do what is called hyper aging. The barrels release tannins and have a medium toast on the inside.
"It's our God-given right to drink," says Fenten. "It's perfect by the fire with a cigar."