Firefly Vodka

By Kay Steiger

by Flickr user urbanbohemian (Creative Commons license)

by Flickr user urbanbohemian (Creative Commons license)

Now that we’re back in a recession, perhaps the making of moonshine will take off. It certainly has for 62-year-old Jim Irvin (via this article in The State), who experimented with making sweat tea vodka our of muscadines and wound up becoming one of the most successful micro-distilleries in the country. Irvin plans to release a regular brand of vodka soon. The article does a good job of describing the evolution of the vodka hobby business, but what I found most fascinating (can you tell? I’m really into the idea of making your own booze) is the DIY instructions for vodka.


Vodka is different from other spirits. While whiskey is made from grain and rum is made from sugar, vodka can be made from just about anything — potatoes, grains, beets, sugar, fruit and honey.

The secret is in the distillation.

At Firefly, it starts with the muscadine wine made at Irvin-House. The wine gets to 14 percent alcohol during the fermentation process.

Once the wine is ready, it goes in the still. There, through a series of temperature changes, the alcohol is captured. After that, it is mixed with sugar and tea (which is brewed and concentrated).

It then sits at least 48 hours before bottling begins.

Okay, so assuming I knew how to make wine, I could totally do this. I think. Does anyone have experience with distilling their own liquor? It seems like it’s not overly complicated, but comes with the potential risk of poisoning yourself.

Also, has anyone tried the Firefly vodka or know where you could get some in the DC area?


12 responses to “Firefly Vodka

  1. It is deliciously southern. Everybody has been drinking it at parties in VA for a bit.

  2. Distilling liquor is both dangerous and highly illegal. Along with the aforementioned risk of poisoning, unless you want to get raided by the ATF or burn down your house, I’d suggest leaving the moonshining to the pros.

  3. I tried this stuff at the winery last spring when I was there on vacation. Yummy though not super smooth.

    When I was there they already had a plain vodka so I’m not sure why they say they’re making one soon.

  4. verplanck colvin

    I’m with brendan. The concept of distillation is simple, sure. Application is very very different.

  5. Well shoot. There go my dreams of being a moonshiner.

  6. I’m cool with taking vodka and infusing it with something, but there’s no point in distilling pure vodka from exotic ingredients, since the distillation is supposed to remove all flavor and impurities.

    It’s like caring about the source of bottled water instead of which minerals get added after the fact to pure water derived from some (any) source. Vodka, like water, should be path independent; otherwise, you’re doing it wrong.

  7. As for finding Firefly, it seems to be a standard at the “Class 6” liquor stores on military installations throughout the Southeast, so you might try asking around any servicemembers you might be acquainted with.

  8. According to Going Out Guru Fritz, you can get it mixed in cocktails at a couple of Glover Park establishments.

  9. Mix up a pitcher of fresh lemonade like we did at the bar thursday and mix 1/3 firefly (or sweet caroline, which we had) and 2/3 lemonade in a tumbler and you have the “John Daly.”

    Really, what else would you call and alcoholic version of the Arnold Palmer?

  10. Kay,

    Distilling is tricky business. Making the wine is the easy part — easier even than brewing beer — you just buy your juice and stick it in a bucket with some yeast, basically. The distillation process isn’t all that bad, but you have to be ruthless about temperature control — you want to collect the fraction that runs out right around 80 C. Lower than that, you get acetone, methanol, and other things that will kill you. Higher than that, you get fusel alcohols and other things that will not kill you, but do not taste all that good, either. As other commenters have noted, though, this would not be strictly legal. That being said, the ATF has better things to do than come after someone who’s distilling a few liters of ethanol here and there, so you’d likely be in the clear.

  11. Dupont Wine & Liquor at 2012 P St has Firefly in a variety of sizes.

    John Daly’s are dangerous, you can’t taste of alcohol at all and before you know it, you’re 6 in the hole.

  12. Firefly is hardly homemade. However, in South Carolina, one of the first things people teach their descendants is how to make wine well and to distill well. That’s something no one likes to own to but there it is.

    Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka is wonderful and tasty. The idea of using muscadines is genius, as it helps create a naturally sweet tea-infused vodka that is the equal of any now on the market. Ask your package store or liquor dealer to get some in for you. It’s worth stocking up on because everyone will love it.

    Here’s my favorite mix:

    1 part Firefly Sweet Tea Vodka
    1 part Dr. McGillicuddy’s Lemon Drop Schnapps
    1 part Gerolsteiner (or any slightly bubbly water)

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