Another local advantage: the coastal environment. The process of making rum still holds some mystery, Curtis said, including how natural yeasts – which vary from one region to another – affect the spirit’s characteristics. Kathy Ryan, who oversees the blending process at Ryan & Wood, said minerals in Gloucester’s water help the fermentation process. And Campbell, who relocated to Ipswich last year from the craft distilling mecca of Denver, loves working alongside a salt marsh.
“We get this beautiful, salty, briny quality in here,” Campbell said inside Privateer’s 10,000-square-foot plant. “When barrels respirate, they soak up that salty air. When you put [that rum] in your mouth, it just starts watering instantly.”
The region’s long history is another asset, one that producers invoke discreetly. Privateer co-founder Andrew Cabot proudly tells how his namesake ancestor of six generations prior was both a rum-maker and a patriot. His Beverly-based privateer vessel helped colonists defeat the British by capturing commercial loot, Cabot explains. Recreating his ancestor’s rum, however, is not on today’s agenda.
“We’re doing something that they could have done back in the day,” said Cabot, a former high-tech entrepreneur. “But the motivation in the industrial Northeast was to produce a lot, cheaply and fast. That’s not our motivation. We’re trying to make less and make it better.”
Bob Ryan and his family, meanwhile, draw upon more recent history. The name Folly Cove Rum refers to a local inlet where Prohibition-era rumrunners from the Atlantic Maritimes used to drop their hooch. It conjures images of getting rum past hurdles to those who can appreciate it. Today, that might mean carving out a market niche that alcohol conglomerates can’t touch.
The target consumer for North Shore rum “wants to know that it’s an artisan rum, produced in small batches, and has an aura about it,” said Ipswich resident Joseph Carlin, author of “Cocktails: A Global History.’’ He notes that cocktail recipes in Colonial times insisted on Caribbean rums because the quality was superior to New England’s.
But those days are gone.
“Local rum distillers today are trying to outdo one another,” Carlin said, “in producing the finest rums possible.’’
G. Jeffrey MacDonald can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.