Both Richland Rum and its unrefined sugarcane syrup, Almost Rum, are certified.
Rum is traditionally made from fermented molasses. It was the original alcoholic drink of the American colonists and played a major role in the colonies’ relationship with Britain.
Slaves in the Caribbean harvested sugarcane and processed it into sugar, which was then sold to the colonists. The byproduct of sugarcane processing is molasses, which was collected in vats to ferment. The fermented mixture was distilled to create rum.
Richland Rum owners Erik and Karin Vonk grow sugarcane on the farm they purchased in 1999 after Erik left Randstad, where he was president and CEO.
Sugarcane, which looks vaguely like oversized bamboo shoots, grows to about 8 feet tall over the summer and into the fall. Come late October and November, the fields are harvested, and the cut stalks are transported to the distillery a few miles away at 333 E. Broad St. in the center of Richland. (The distillery is open for tours weekdays from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m.)
No other U.S. distillery grows its own sugarcane for its rum. Richland Rum is cared for by the same group of people from farm to glass.
Richland also uses pure sugarcane juice instead of molasses, which makes for a lighter, almost sweeter product.
The Vonks said they had always wanted to become certified kosher because “there were a considerable amount of people that didn’t have access to our rum, simply because it wasn’t certified kosher. We had a few people come in for a tour but couldn’t taste it.”
Many people place pure rum into a category of spirits requiring no kosher certification, but others take a stricter approach.
After a bit of research, the Vonks realized that their methods and ingredients fit the AKC requirements, so they didn’t have to change their artisan methods, ingredients or tools. They just needed an AKC inspection.
“Rabbi David Kayser came out and inspected our facility, processes and equipment,” Karin said. “All in all, it took about four to five hours. We were very pleased with the simplicity of the process and the devotion of Rabbi Reuven Stein to make sure that each piece met the overall criteria to become kosher.”
The process was so easy because Richland’s rum contains just three ingredients: sugarcane juice, yeast and water.
Sugarcane juice is mixed with a bit of water and yeast and ferments for five or six days. The mixture is distilled and aged in barrels for a few years, developing a rich, brown color and an incredible flavor.
It’s worlds away from what you used to drink in college. Many people drink it like whiskey — in a glass with maybe an ice cube or a drop of water and nothing more. Richland Rum is available at local liquor stores and is certified kosher when bearing the AKC symbol.
The Vonks are building a second distillery near Brunswick, where they plan to make an unaged (clear) rum. As they build the facility from the ground up, they are keeping the requirements of kosher certification in mind and are going a step farther to become certified for Passover in addition to year-round use.