A longtime Kentucky resident and a former pharmacist, Tony Chase knows a thing or two about “concocting and distilling.”
It’s only natural that his post- retirement job will be to lead a new rum company on Daufuskie Island.
A 35-year resident of Kentucky and a soon-to-be-retired medical executive, Chase first came to Daufuskie in July 2012 looking for a retirement home. At 53, Chase said he wasn’t ready to stop working, so he came up with the idea of opening a micro-distillery on Daufuskie.
After buying a home on the island in October, he began to think about what kind of alcohol to make. Chase briefly toyed with the idea of making bourbon, nixing that idea after declaring that “bourbon ought to be made in Kentucky.”
With his move to the island, he settled on a more tropical liquor — rum, creating the Daufuskie Island Rum Co.
In a few weeks, the company will close on the sale of property that will house a 3,500-square-foot micro distillery set to open early next year. The building, being constructed by a contractor who is also an investor in the company, will feature a 500-square-foot porch overlooking a one-acre pond on the property, where people can sit in rocking chairs and sip rum, Chase said.
An additional 10.25 acres of land on the island will eventually be home to sugar cane to be used in the making of the rum once it is fully grown, a cycle that takes about two years.
A rum company on Daufuskie would be just one of a few in the United States that are produced on an island, joining companies in Florida and Hawaii that can claim the distinction.
Chase also said the company would only use materials and ingredients made in the U.S., a desire that comes from patriotism instilled by his father, a military veteran.
Chase said he hopes to start making white rum early next year. The company already has agreements with distributors in Georgia and South Carolina and has seen local demand from restaurants and hotels. One area hotel, a Westin in Savannah, also asked Chase if they could carry souvenirs with the company’s logo in their gift shop.
Next summer, a gold rum also will be available in a limited run. That rum has to be aged in barrels to give it a distinctive color and flavor.
Chase said he would consider the venture an enormous success if the company simply breaks even, with any profits gained as “icing on the cake.”
He said, “189 million fifths of rum are sold in the U.S. each year. We just need a tiny bit of that to be successful.”
Among the roughly 8 million people living in South Carolina and Georgia, about 89,000 identify themselves as rum drinkers, Chase said.
He’s continuing to work to build a groundswell of popularity for the new rum. In two months, a Facebook page set up for the company has garnered 1,400 fans. Many of them volunteered to take the company’s de facto mascot, a shot glass nicknamed “Shotty,” on trips across the country, taking pictures that are then posted to the Facebook page.
“Shotty travels more than I do,” Chase said. “He’s on his way to Alaska now, and there are trips to San Diego and New York planned, too.”
Between six and eight launch parties around the region, from Tybee Island to Hilton Head, are in the works as well, Chase said.
“There’s a huge interest in the company around here,” he said. “We’re just going to keep this momentum going until we start producing.”