It's true we are looking at and talking about Craft Rums here in the United States. Success does strange things to businesses. You make a distilled spirit, you perfect it and people like it. At one time in history that was the success you needed and wanted. But; here in the US, there is more (there always seems to be more). It seems (especially in the last half of the 20th century), that unless you grow, unless you increase sales and profits, you are perceived as losing. Take rum. You manufacture the best, most popular rum in the US, so big you need to manufacture it in huge quantities. Blending huge batches to attain a regularity in taste - leads to over filtering and "blanding down" so often that the once great rum - is now an OK rum. This is the point where craft rum, rums made in relatively small batches ( and some that are REALLY small) have a charm. They are there to make the drinker happy, yes but most of all they exist to make the maker happy. That is the story of Richland Rum.
While I covered the journey of Erik Vonk in his quest to find the rums he remembered his family drank. Not just drank, but made part of that daily ritual of life. It was the sociable thing, it was the fum thing it was nearly sacred potion that drew generations together. It was stout, it was flavorful it was so extraordinary, it burned its flavor into the very taste buds of Erik Vonk. I covered that, sure... You can read it all here. But there is more and more pictures too.... Let's look at some pictures and I'll narrate...
We managed to make excellent time to Richland. A nice ride in the Georgia countryside. While Richland may appear to be very rural and way out in the country -- it is less than 2 hours to Atlanta. This was key for Richland Rum as their reputation grew, many restaurants and hotels began to feature this Grade A rum at their establishments. We pulled up in my car which I named Suni1 -- but could not get that plate number so I went with the obvious.
Of the four Distilleries we visited in this trip RR was the most retail looking of the group. Their distillery, tasting room and gift shop are on the main street of a revitalizing Richland. The city want to bring back the picturesque downtown and make it a destination. That rebuilding is ongoing. There is an antique store (great little spot operated by two of the nicest women you could meet, both retired teachers and just a joy to talk with.
We noticed a couple of restaurants, a breakfast place and another down the street that we did not get a chance to explore.
Richland Rum - was ready for business... Well almost. There was no one there when we arrived! However one of the Antique Store owners told us they saw us and had called Eric and Karin and that they would be there presently. The sign on the door proclaimed an OPEN HOUSE from 3-5PM and this was before 3.
While Rick The Rum Runner Southern Road Trip was in the planning stage, I had contacted all the Distillers and tried to give them a day and time when we would be there. Driving from Charleston South Carolina to Richland Georgia was going to take 5-6 hours. To top it off we choose Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend. Karin and I exchanged e-mails and they graciously gave up what they had hoped would be a long Holiday weekend to open shop and give us a tour. The Open House would prove to be a good idea to have another reason to be there. By the time we left nearly 2 hours later they had a streanm of people waiting to learn, to taste and admire the rum.
The all brick interior is lined with barrels -- functional -- each group in a stage of aging. Oh by the way -- the aroma was just mouth-watering-ly delicious. I have found all rum distilleries to smell SO good, this was one of the very best!
The picture to the right shows a sugar cane mill where the cane is crushed to extract the syrup. In Richland's recipe -- only the best - the cane syrup, not the molasses, is used. The syrup is dark, thick, not unlike molasses. The taste, however, is sugar sweet and the product is offered for sale (It is called -Almost Rum). Try it on Pancakes or waffles!
You can see the thick, rich consistency --- I put it on some Salmon fillets and oven baked it -- Oh yes!!
So this is the basic sweet (ferment-able) ingredient. The basis of Richland Rums Rich taste.
The Stills.... The one on the right has, I believe is 1000 litre capacity and the smaller - to the left is soon to be replaced by its twin. They are made in Portugal.Very nice - hand hammered and really, a work of functional art!
Karin is pouring -- Erik reaches for a sample for us. The aroma, the first taste, was just wonderful. This is a rum born of research, experimentation and a real passion to reignite not just a memory - but a reality in spirits.
Erik worked about 20 years -- 15 or more actually distilling. He would run. taste, reject adjust re-start, make more, re-taste. Sometimes nearly beginning anew. I would not call Mr Vonk possessed but I would call him driven.
Finally, he got the liquir he wanted. It was what he recalled. but even when he had distilled it -- the final taste would not appear for nearly two more years, as he aged and tasted and tasted and aged. So dedicated to "getting it right," barrels of a specific batch are only topped by a barrel from the same batch -- so the entire batch is all the same age and variety.
Aging casks lose some precious rum each month (the Angels Share). Many distillers top teh casks with the same spirit but of different batches or ages -- so a 2 year aged rum (or whiskey) could have 24 different batches mixed in to top each cask over the months. Nor so at Richland. Each series of barrels has one barrel where the "topping" is taken from and used ONLY in the barrels from the same batch. The aged group of barrels is then, truly, the same batch, the same age. Erik has much to smile about... He got it very right.
This is the first still. the experimental License number welded into the corner of the top, making it Vonk's first venture into experimental, commercial distillation.
As he improved the recipe, he needed both more capacity and versatility.
This is #2. Yeah looks like what we'd expect. For scale (and this is a guess) I'd say about 10 gallons TOPS.
These are the stills in use today.... Making yummyness (I made up a word!)
Once the rums tasted on this road trip are added. Rum Ratings will carry my rating of each of these rums. I invite every rum fan to visit Rum Ratings and register, and rate every rum you taste. It's fun it's imformative and it lets the Distillers know what we like!!!
Other than that -- I am...............