There’s something of a rum-making renaissance happening in Massachusetts right now. Before prohibition, the Bay State was the rum capital of the world. Distilleries lined the Mystic River in Boston where ships from the Caribbean filled with molasses came in and barrels of rum went out.
But prohibition and industry consolidation changed all that. Up until a few years ago, there wasn’t a single distillery in Boston and just a handful in Massachusetts. Thankfully laws have evolved (making it easier for distilleries to open) and now we’re in a bit of a micro-booze boom time. Two of the new distillers reclaiming this heritage are Bully Boy and Privateer.
Andrew Cabot opened the Privateer distillery in Ipswich, Massachusetts about two and half years ago. I visited the distillery recently as the team was in the middle of labeling, by hand, hundreds of bottles of rum.
One of Cabot’s ancestors (who he shares his name with) made a fortune as a privateer during the Revolution and also started a rum distillery in Massachusetts. The distillery’s name is an homage to him.
Maggie Campbell, the head distiller, talked to me about making rum and experimenting with other spirits. Privateer, like a winery, celebrates the individual variations of batches. “It’s something we can do that a large company can’t,” she said.
Campbell was sort of destined to be a distiller. When she was 21 she signed up for sommelier school. “If I could have skipped college and gone and done that, I would have,” she says. She also started brewing beer and eventually distilling. She honed her chops as an assistant distiller at Germain-Robin in California, which is easily one of the most respected small-batch distilleries in the U.S. She has experimented with other spirits besides rum at Privateer.
As for the work, what’s it actually like to be a distiller? Is it as romantic as many think?
“It’s a lot of lugging hoses. A lot of cleaning,” she says. “And a lot of working with really big and cool machines.”
And with any craft work there’s constant refining, constant learning and tweaking.
“The theme for us is: Are you doing the best job you can do right now? Are we making great rum, right now,” she says. “What’s best for the rum?”
Drinking it, I’d say.
Privateer is available in Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New York, New Jersey, D.C., Chicago, Colorado and California. Get your hands on some.
The Hand & Eye Rum Cocktail
1 part dark rum
1 part tonic
Splash of O.J. (or whatever juice you have)
1 big chunk of lime