This story was originally printed in the Dec./Jan. 2015 edition of Liberty Life Magazine.
Daufuskie Island Rum Company will be celebrating their first year in business this December and owners Anthony Chase and his newlywed wife Kristi are still in awe of just how successful their little venture has become.
During a somewhat rainy October afternoon, Chase greets a group of visitors who came to tour his 1,500 square foot business and distillery. He glances at the large group gathered in the foyer and can barely contain his excitement.
“Those push pins represent where people live right now and we’ve had visitors from 48 different states already,” Chase says pointing to two different maps on the wall of his tasting room.
He says they are only missing guests from South Dakota and Alaska. “And we’ve already had visitors from 38 different countries as well,” he adds. “It’s been pretty remarkable to see the number of people who actually come to Daufuskie Island…we have about 300 people who live on the island full time but we get about 100,000 visitors a year.”
Many of those visitors have made their way to the distillery where Chase, a former Pharmacist and Hospice Program Manager, has turned his modest dream into a bursting reality.
Daufuskie Island Rum Company started out simple enough.
“We opened on Dec. 23, 2014 with the white rum. On April 11, 2015 we had a launch party for our spice rum, we called it our get spicy party and we had live music and about 300 people here. On the Fourth of July we released our gold rum and that is what is aging in these bourbon reserve barrels,” he says leading the group into the distillery.
Chase says he was happy managing hospice programs across the country. Leaving hospice behind to open a rum company wasn’t his original plan when he and his wife searched for an island home.
“Kristi and I started looking for a beach house and we were going to use it just intermittingly until it came time to retire,” Chase says adding they were both still quite happy with the Kentucky farm home they lived in for many years.
The couple searched for a place on Zillow and came across the listing for the Daufuskie Island property.
Chase laughs, his blue eyes sparkle and he strokes his short white beard commiserating on how neither of them had ever set foot on Daufuskie Island in their life. But, while looking at the property photos online, they decided to make an offer, sight unseen.
“And the offer was accepted,” he says with a smile admitting, at that moment, they weren’t quite sure what they were about to get themselves into. “We came down the following week on a Thursday and stayed until Monday.”
After a few more short visits the couple fell in love with Daufuskie, leased out their farm in Kentucky and became full time island residents.
“I am a bourbon guy,” Chase says about his Kentucky heritage. “And bourbon is meant to be made in Kentucky. But to me, rum is an island drink...so since I live on an island, and a somewhat remote island, I felt like making rum was the right thing to do,” he adds with a laugh and admits he thinks he is finally putting his Pharmacology degree to good use.
Between tours, Chase looks out the front porch across the pond at the open and welcoming setting he created. The rum distillery looks like a country store, meticulously decorated to include a tin roof and rocking chairs outside the front porch.
He says he purchased 12.4 acres. The wondrous scenery of the pond, ducks and trees is much different from what the land originally looked like.
“When we got this it was pretty much a junk yard and what it was once used for was for an incineration station and a dump site,” he recalls. “It took us weeks to clear out that wide open space. And we’ve cleaned it up to this park-like setting.”
Chase says he takes pride in making a good product for more reasons than a good tasting drink.
“I am an army brat,” Chase says with admiration. “I grew up all over the country. Both my mother and my father were in the army and I wanted to make sure that everything that touched our rum was made in America.”
In order to do so Chase had his distillation units made in Alabama instead of Europe, uses all natural ingredients only grown in the United States and went through the Made in the USA Certification process.
“And they certified us with 100 percent US content,” he says adding that it also was fitting that his latest product, the reserve gold rum, became available for sale on the Fourth of July of 2015.
“We had roughly 350 people here for the gold rum launch party and sold 213 bottles at the event,” he says still sounding surprised. “We thought it was going to be about 34 percent of our business, it turned out to be 50 percent.”
Chase leads the group from the first room of the distillery, which is lined with bourbon barrels filled with rum and stacked three levels high. The group walks a few feet into the back room where the rum is actually made and Chase explains the process.
Chase says all rums start out as white rum and all are made with only three ingredients the most important being sugar.
“It has to be a sugar cane product or a byproduct of sugar cane in order for it to be called rum in the United States,” he explains. “So you have sugar, water and yeast and that’s it.”
Walking around the distillation and fermentation units, Chase picks up a cup of sugar and holds it up for the group to see.
“Sugar is the only opportunity you have to affect the flavor profile of your rum, so you got to choose the right sugar,” he says and laughs as he explains he tried 40 different rums until he found the one he liked the most.
“Believe it or not no one wanted to help me with that task,” he says smiling. “The one that I found that I liked the most was from a little distillery in Georgetown, Guyana called El Dorado.
Chase said once he found the flavor he wanted he called the distillery to see what sugar they used.
“It turns out they use demerara sugar,” he says and points to bags of demerara sugar he currently uses that is produced in the United States in Florida. Chase Says demerara sugar is minimally processed and has not had the molasses removed from it. He says that is what gives his rum a rich flavor.
The water, yeast and sugar are mixed together in fermentation tanks made of cypress wood which Chase says is the only wood that will not impart any flavor to the rum. He says the yeast converts the sugar to alcohol.
After five days the fermentation process is complete and what they have is 300 gallons of 13 percent alcohol. But Chase says that still has to be distilled to remove other byproducts of the liquid.
Chase walks over to the two 150 gallon distillation units and explains to the group the liquid will be brought up to a temperature of 200 degrees.
“The reason for that is that ethyl alcohol, the good stuff the stuff that we want, boils at 170 degrees and water boils at 212. So what I want to do is boil out the alcohol and leave the water behind,” he says.
The alcohol is then condensed back into a liquid and workers must then remove what they call the ‘head,’ which is the chemical component that is too strong for human consumption but perfectly suited to be used as cleanser for the facility and equipment.
Chase says these ‘head’ components, acetone, acid aldehyde and methyl alcohol, is what often killed moonshiners who didn’t properly remove them from their final distillation process, during the prohibition era.
At this point the product is 190 proof rum which is then further processed until its 80 proof white rum.
“Every bottle is hand filled, hand corked and hand labeled. And every single bottle gets a batch number and bottle number hand written on it,” Chase explains as he holds up a sharpie marker and the labels they place on the bottle once full.
“Now if we are making the spice rum what we will do is take that same rum, and I will take my nine secret spices, and these are all natural, I don’t use any extracts or artificial flavors, and I place them in a spice bag, place it in the rum and let it steep for a week,” he says.
Once ready it is also hand bottled labeled and marked.
Chase says he is most proud of the gold reserve because he incorporates a little bit of his Kentucky bourbon heritage into the mix.
The gold rum is aged in bourbon barrels provided by Woodford Reserve, Chase’s favorite.
“As I said earlier I am from Kentucky and we in Kentucky believe that bourbon should only be made in Kentucky and that it has to be aged in virgin American oak barrels,” Chase says. “That means they use the barrel one time and then we get the barrel. These barrels probably have about two gallons of bourbon soaked into the wood. So when we put in our rum…what happens is it leeches some of the bourbon out into the rum. When you taste that gold rum you are going to taste a little bit of that bourbon undertone and it will finish with the sweetness of the rum so it doesn’t burn.”
The rum ages for six months, is bottled and the barrels are then sent to a new microbrewery set to open in Bluffton called Salt Marsh. Chase says he is working with the brew masters to create a Daufuskie Rum ale. He says he is also working with a Florida honey company who are going to take a few of the barrels to make a rum infused honey.
Chase leads the group back into the tasting room and explains that the white rum only takes a week to produce, the spice rum takes about two weeks while the gold rum ages for six months. Each batch will produce 350-400 bottles.
“I bartended my way through Pharmacy school in Lexington,” Chase says as his wife pours out samples of all three rums for the group to sample. He says the white rum is what is typically used to make a traditional mixed drink like a rum and coke or mojito.
He says the holidays are best served with his spiced rum.
“The spiced rum tastes like Christmas,” he says as he tells the group to first take in a good whiff and detect the spices before taking a sip. “I would try it in eggnog,” he adds. “It has really nice aromas and flavors to it.”
Chase says the best way to enjoy the gold rum is to simply pour it over some ice.
Chase says they plan on producing a vanilla rum he says will surely become another holiday classic and available by late November.
“We are not just flavoring it with artificial vanilla flavor,” he says. “I’ve taken our white rum and put the vanilla beans in it and made my own extract. I am using my own vanilla rum extract to flavor the rum and each bottle will have a vanilla bean in it before we cork it up.”
Kristi Chase says the spice rum would be the perfect addition for a holiday rum cake recipe. She says several of her customers have shared cocktail recipes on their Facebook page. She adds a few customers have used their rum to marinate ribs and beef before grilling.
Daufuskie Island Rum Company is one of only two American rum distilleries located on an island. It is located at 270 Haig Point Road, Daufuskie Island, South Carolina. The facility is open to the public from Wednesday to Saturday from 10 a.m. until 4 p.m. Call ahead to book a tour. For more information call (843) 342-4786.
PHOTO BY GEOFF JOHNSON