How a brewery and distillery winded up in the middle of nowhere
Roll down the windows and enjoy Georgia’s warm breeze on your way to these breweries and a distillery in the middle-of-nowhere.
After driving on bumpy roads with an endless supply of trees, muscadine grape vines come into view in front of an abandoned school building in which a brewery was built.
Although there was only farmland on the 30-minute ride to a rum distillery, the water tower with the distillery’s product name on it allows travelers to know they are headed in the right direction. The distillery smelled of vanilla and caramel, as sugar cane from a nearby farm fermented in a tank.
While it may feel like there’s nothing but farm fields, pecan and peach orchards or pine trees outside metropolitan areas, there is something else to be found in rural Georgia. Richland Distilling Co., Omaha Brewing Co. and Jailhouse Brewing Co. are all within two hours from Macon, and they offer tours and tastings.
Maybe it’s time for a road trip.
Richland Distilling Co.
After driving an hour and 45 minutes through the countryside of Georgia, the quaint town of Richland will appear. Other than a hardware store and an automotive business, Richland Distilling is the only other business you will see in town.
Karin and Erik Vonk, native to the Netherlands, bought a farm three miles from Richland in 1999. They began growing sugar cane and making rum as a hobby, Karin said.
“The mayor approached us and he said, ‘would you consider coming to downtown and open up a distillery or a tasting room there, so you can help me with economic revitalization of the city?’ ” she said.
It wasn’t until 2010 that the Vonks renovated 120-year-old buildings in Richland to open the only single-estate rum distillery in the U.S., she said.
The distillery offers tours that can be scheduled on their website. The free tour takes 10 minutes and includes a tour of the distillery, barrel houses and a tasting of Richland Rum. The other tour is $25 and offers a more in-depth experience in which you can taste four different rum expressions.
Roger Zimmerman, the distiller of Richland Rum, said the distillery produces rum the old-fashioned way with pot stills and sugar cane straight from the farm.
“We are in the middle-of-nowhere. I mean, truly, we’re 35, 40 miles from anywhere, and we get people from all over the world,” Zimmerman said.
Karin Vonk said it is a pleasure to be in Richland and support the community through their distillery.
“It is an experience that you’ll never forget,” she said. “Everybody needs to come and visit Richland.”
Omaha Brewing Co.
Dr. Robert Lee has a dentist office and a brewery, which are the only businesses in Omaha.
“You can have a tooth pulled, and have a beer to ease your pain,” said Dee Moore, Omaha Brewing’s brewmaster.
The brewery offers free tours and has a tasting room in which you can buy a brew for $4 and a flight, also known as a sampler of beer, for $8.
The brewery is 30 minutes from Richland and Columbus. And Omaha and Richland are in Stewart County, the poorest county in Georgia according to a U.S. Census Bureau report in 2017.
Lee lived in Atlanta for 45 years before moving back to Omaha, he said.
Although he always wanted to move back to Omaha, Lee said he also wanted to help the economy of his hometown.
“We wanted to create some kind of community jobs for our family, a legacy for the town and for our family,” he said.
Jailhouse Brewing Co.
Drinking beer in a jail is a common occurrence in Hampton.
“There was an old building in Hampton that I really liked,” said Glenn Golden, co-owner of Jailhouse Brewing with his wife, Melissa. “It was obvious to me to open a brewery there.”
After purchasing the property, Golden said they discovered the building was formerly the city jail.
People can come to see the old jail, visit the fourth brick and mortar brewery opened in the state and try the 16 different beers they have on tap, he said.
“This is more like Mayberry than it is the Atlanta pen,” Golden said with a laugh.
The brewery offers free tours on request and is pet and kid friendly.
The biggest impact the brewery has on Hampton is drawing tourists to the town, he said.
“Breweries are just natural tourist destinations right now,” he said. “It’s driving the town by bringing people that wouldn’t normally come to Hampton.”