Welcome to Richland, Erik Vonk and Jay McCain. In 1998, Erik Vonk purchased land and established Vennebroeck, his farm southwest of Richland, Ga. The 1996 Olympics in Atlanta brought Vonk to Georgia. Fortunately for Stewart Co., he decided to maintain a presence in the state.
Vonk was the architect of the staffing contract between Randstad Holding N. V., a Dutch company, and the Atlanta Olympic Committee. He orchestrated the provision for 16,000 paid temporary personnel at the 1996 Centennial Games.
His new venture, Richland Distilling Co., will take up residence at 333 Broad St. in Richland this October. Vonk and McCain will create handcrafted rum from sugar cane juice. Conventional rum is made from molasses.
“By contrast, we will make rum directly from pure juice,” says Vonk. “The result is a richer, smoother rum with very pleasant aromas.”
Our first distill is an all copper, handcrafted ‘pot still,’ which was made for us in Portugal.”
The building that Vonk will be purchasing from the Richland Downtown Development Authority to house the distillery is in the center of a row of historic Victorian storefronts in downtown. The pot still will be on the Broad St. side in the building, so it will be visible from the sidewalk.
The Rum will be marketed under the brand name Vennebroeck Velvet Rum, after the farmstead.
“We will use juice from sugar cane organically grown at Vennebroeck as much as we can,” Vonk explains. “If we run short of juice, we will buy it elsewhere.”
After fermentation, the juice will be distilled three times. The rum is then stored in oak barrels for aging. New barrels are first charred on the inside to enhance flavor.
“We also will use ‘used’ wine or whisky barrels, to add aromas,” says Vonk.
The approach Vonk is using to distill rum is being revived in some of the 230 artisan distilleries that have sprung up in the U.S. The operation of the copper still is an art, like playing a musical instrument, Vonk explains.
“When done well, the product is much better than industrially produced liquors,” he assures.
“Growing the cane, pressing it to extract the juice, fermentation and distilling are all natural processes,” Vonk elaborates. “Nowhere are chemicals or preservatives added, other than some fertilizers when the cane develops in the field.”
In essence, Vennebroeck Velvet Rum’s ingredients are Georgia soil, Georgia sunshine and Georgia water.”
We are making every effort to start distilling by early October,” says Vonk. “Once in operation, the distillery will be open to the public during posted hours, hopefully during events like Pig Fest in November [Nov. 11 – 12].”
Initially, we will only be manufacturing product and storing it to let the fine rum age appropriately. Later this year Vennebroeck Velvet Rum will be released for distribution [through wholesalers to retail outlets].”