New rum business hopes to lift Lowcountry spirits

gmartin@islandpacket.comMay 6, 2012 

The Pocotaglio Rum label.

JAY KARR, THE ISLAND PACKET

Countless promises have been made over a bottle of rum. Not all have been kept.

But a pair of Bluffton entrepreneurs are determined to make good on a pledge they made to distill their own rum and build a business around it based in Beaufort County.

Mitch Brown and Gavin Wright, owners of Pocotaligo Rum, say their partnership has come a long way since an awkward initial encounter.

Wright had applied for a position at Brown's business, Bluffton-based Southeastern Dock & Platform, and first met him for a job interview over lunch.

"I'm in there, fat and scraggly and bearded, wearing my torn (jeans), and Gavin comes in wearing a sport coat," Brown recalls with a laugh.

It wasn't long after that meeting that Brown and his new employee were spending a lazy afternoon on the May River, drinks in hand, when an idea began to ferment.

"We'd both done some home-brewing and wanted to take it a step further," Wright said. "We got on the topic of rum and how we'd really like to dabble in distilling it. We decided to see if we could make something."

They soon took a trip to a nearby supermarket, stocked up on the liquor's fundamental components -- molasses and yeast -- and made their first batch of mash.

"The taste wasn't so great; it was pretty potent," Wright says.

"Wretched," Brown interjects.

But through trial and error they began to establish a more palatable product.

When friends learned of their undertaking, they were curious and enthusiastic.

"Just telling people initially and seeing their excitement, we realized there was a market," Wright said.

Intrigued by the prospect of expanding their enterprise, they took a short trip to Barbados to learn how to produce their proprietary formula on a broader scale.

They established a contract with a family-run distillery there to make the rum, made with Barbadian sugar and aged in charred bourbon barrels.

The island nation, Wright said, also shares cultural ties with the Lowcountry, through immigration history and similar architectural styles.

Returning to Bluffton, the entrepreneurs brainstormed names for their new product, settling on "Pocotaligo," a Yemassee Indian word they say means "the gathering place."

"It's an old Lowcountry name," Brown says. "And it sounds fun. Just say it. It's got a good staccato to it."

The product has yet to hit local shelves, but they say they're in talks with several restaurant groups and hope to offer it by the end of the year.

Meanwhile, they're devoting roughly equal time to both enterprises -- "daylight to the docks, moonlight to the rum," Brown says -- and thinking of ways to expand their product line beyond their flagship.

They hope to introduce a variety of flavored rums after establishing themselves locally but say they've already exceeded the goals first dreamed up on that afternoon on the river.

"We've put what money we have in this," Brown says. "We're not wealthy guys, we're just hammering out a dream."

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