Getting crafty

Crafting spirits and experiences fuels growth for Hilton Head Distillery.

By Lucy Rosen 

Joe Fenten first fell in love with craft spirits as a bartender while in college at Clemson University. After graduating from Clemson with a bachelor’s of science in electrical engineering in 2007 and working as an engineer for a number of years, he left the field to pursue his passion for craft spirits – cutting his teeth with moonshine and whiskey back in 2010 and opening the first federally licensed craft whiskey distillery in South Carolina in 2011. The early growth of his company (which went on to produce the state’s first-ever bourbon, gin and absinthe) continued in 2014 when his team saw an opportunity to replicate their success in Greenville, but with a focus on rum and vodka. Upon partnering with a Caribbean rum distillery to learn how to make rum and then bringing what they learned to Hilton Head Island in 2015, they were poised for even more growth. The rest, as they say, is history – and a perfect example of how a great idea, with the right team and the right “experience,” can fuel the growth of a business.

Celebrating its fifth year in business, Hilton Head Distillery (www.hiltonheaddistillery.com) is Hilton Head Island’s first and only craft, small-batch distillery — using a combination of age-old distillation techniques and modern technology to craft premium, small-batch rum and vodka by hand. Equally as important, the distillery is all about the experience – both the years of experience of its dedicated professional team and the experiences the distillery creates for its guests. According to Fenten, who describes Hilton Head Distillery as a craft sprit company and experiential brand experience, it’s this focus on the guest experience that has been the biggest driver for their growth.

“One of the biggest drivers of our growth has been focusing on the guest experience as much as the products we produce,” says Fenten. “Everything we do is geared to engage, educate and excite our guests – from providing tastings and tours to teaching cocktail classes to hosting events.” Currently, Hilton Head Distillery offers a wide variety of ways for guests to be engaged and entertained, “from intimate, hands-on mixology classes to behind-the-scene tours and everything in between.” 

As the first and only craft distillery on Hilton Head Island, everything at the Hilton Head Distillery is geared to engage, educate and excite guests.

Noting the vital role that experiential offerings have played in the success and growth of Hilton Head Distillery and the appeal of these experiences to both locals and tourists alike, Fenten says that plans for continued growth include more experiential distillery offerings in the form of classes and events. He said other key drivers of Hilton Head Distillery’s growth over the past five years include effectively marketing to the Island’s captive audience year after year, fostering the sharing of stories and spirited drinking traditions and “taking care of our people: our team members, guests and the community.” He also attributes their success to “staying true to who we are” as well as the vital importance of taking pride in their craft and always choosing quality over quantity.

Along with plans for more experiential distillery offerings in the months and years to come, Fenten plans to expand their footprint with additional touch points on the Island, exploring bigger partnerships with other local island brands and businesses, and more investment in aged whiskeys and rums. With his goal of “becoming the drink of choice for anyone and everyone crossing the bridge onto the Island,” Fenten is thrilled to have had the opportunity to fuel Hilton Head Distillery’s growth over the past five years.

“One of the things that I’m most proud of with my business is having the grit to keep going,” he says. “I’m humbled and honored to be part of a team that has survived hurricanes, pandemics, and other major adversities. We’re now thriving, stronger than ever and focused on the future.”


Three takeaways

1. Have a morning routine – and stick with it. “The early bird will always get the worm,” Fenten stresses.

2. Eat the frog first! “Prioritize and focus on completing one major task/goal per day,” he says, adding to also “make sure to invest in yourself, too, and make self-care a priority.”

3. Focus on energy management versus time management. “Time doesn’t stop or change pace for you,” he cautions. “You can’t manage it.”

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