Aug. 4—These days, the Richland Rum distillery on Newcastle Street looks thoroughly at home. But a few short years ago, the space at 1404-1406 was a large empty shell in desperate need of some T.L.C.
That's precisely what Erik and Karin Vonk offered. The couple renovated the building when they brought their satellite distillery to the city three and a half years ago. The Vonks created a private-public partnership which allowed them to offer tours while transforming their pure cane sugar, farmed in Richland, into clear "virgin" rum.
"Business is going well. thanks to the economic development initiatives by the city, we have seen growing number of visitors to downtown," Karin Vonk said.
"Of course, the billboards on I-95 help too. Visitor numbers from the islands are up, and tourism is picking up after the 2020 hiatus."
As more visitors have made their way through the Brunswick facility, they've become familiar with the Richland brand and the type of rum created onsite.
"The Virgin Coastal Rum, distilled in Brunswick by the magnificent distiller Robbie Zimmerman, is clear, un-aged rum and goes very well in cocktails," she said.
But that's not the only libation the company creates. There's also the Classic Reserve, which is aged four to six years at the homesite in Richland. Vonk notes that they use American White Oak barrels to amp up the flavor.
"It's the perfect sipping Rum, and this expression was named 'Best American Rum' by Forbes Magazine," Vonk said.
The company also has two cask exchanges, crafted by partnering with other Georgia-based companies like Terrapin in Athens.
"(Terrapin) has been aging beer in our rum barrels. Once the beer is bottled, we get our barrels back and put the original rum back in there for another three years," she said. "The Richland Milk Stout Cask Exchange is so good, it's my favorite. I refer to it as 'liquid tiramisu.'"
The company has a similar product that's a collaboration with Chateau Elan Winery in Braselton.
"Elan has been aging port wine in our barrels before they were returned to us to finish the rum for another three years. This one is a ladies' favorite sipping rum," Vonk said.
In addition to the collaborative batches, Richland also recently created a 20th anniversary edition to celebrate its milestone. The liquor is made from the five oldest and best barrels which are then blended together.
"Bottled at 100 proof, seven and a half years old, it comes in a beautiful special carafe type bottle and an ash wooden box," Vonk said.
While Richland's primary products are the obviously the various rums, there is another that is quite versatile — Richland's Almost Rum. Like the liquor, it is made at the farm in Richland, but has no alcohol and serves simply as a sweetener.
"Once a year when we harvest the cane, the cane juice is evaporated and condensed to syrup in order to preserve it for the crafting of Richland Rum," Vonk said.
"Almost Rum is unrefined and not processed, it has no preservatives and no additives. All it is is condensed fresh sugarcane juice. Almost Rum is the only ingredient in Richland Rum."
The item can be added in the place of any sweetener. And, Vonk says, it can be applied to everything from drinks to meats to desserts.
"Richland Almost Rum is the original sugar and is a healthy substitute for any sweetener. And you need much less of it, since it is so very sweet," she said.
"The versatility of Almost Rum is infinite. Anywhere a recipe asks for a sweetener, replace with Almost Rum. The recipe will taste better and adds a subtle caramel flavor. Make a Georgia ice tea and sweeten it with Almost Rum, and you'll know what I mean."
Richland Rum shares a number of recipes with the public for ways to incorporate the sweetener into dishes. Vonk says that chefs should get a kick out of the multitude of dishes it can inspire.
"I love to marinate meat with it or baste ribs on the grill (or salmon) not to mention the Brunswick Stew," Vonk said.
"Use on pancakes or mix with Georgia olive oil for a delicious bread dip, and of course, it goes well in rum cocktails, such as the Presidential Old Fashioned."
Richland Rum Almost Rum Chicken Satay
2 Tbsp olive oil
2 Tbsp Richland Almost Rum
2 Tbsp fresh lemon juice
Freshly ground salt and pepper
4 Boneless, skinless chicken breasts, cut Into 1 inch cubes
Combine oil, Richland Almost Rum, lemon juice and salt/pepper. Mix well. Pour the contents into bag and add chicken letting marinate overnight or at least two hours. Thread meat onto skewers (four to five pieces per skewer, leaving some space between cubes). Boil marinade for three minutes. Using real charcoal, grill chicken turning and basting several times until completely cooked, but still tender. Serve with white rice and Indonesian peanut sauce.