Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Privateer practice: Meet a new rum distiller with very old roots

Photo: JOEL VEAK


In talking about rum, we're talking about Massachusetts history. In fact, we're talking about our country's history. (Does that mean downing a Hemingway Daiquiri is a show of patriotism? Go America!) Back in colonial days, rum production was a hugely important industry in Massachusetts, one that played a key role in its prosperity and development. Our thirst for the sweet nectar of the sugarcane was great. So we were not pleased when the British starting levying sugar taxes and screwing with the "triangle trade" system that ran between the Caribbean (where sugarcane was grown), the colonies (where the byproducts were turned into rum), and Africa (the source of slaves who were shipped to the Caribbean to harvest the cane). In fact, that interference helped get the American Revolution rolling. It's like they say in the history books: "Give me liberty or give me death. And don't get in the way of my rum business."

That's a history we all share. But for Andrew Cabot, owner of the recently launched Ipswich distillery Privateer International (privateerrum.com), talking about rum means talking about his own family's history. Almost two years ago, he was trying his hand at hobby distilling while tackling a food-studies program at Boston University. But then he came across something interesting during a genealogical search: it turned out that his namesake, a colonial ancestor six generations removed, owned a fleet of privateer ships around the time of the Revolution. They were fast ships that harassed the British and smuggled molasses from the Caribbean to Cabot's rum distillery in Beverly. (Badass.)

Following in his ancestor's footsteps seemed like a natural calling. "This is an amazing back story," Cabot thought, digging through his family's past. "Once you hit [40-something], you've done a few things, made a little money. You want to find something you really care about." 

Cabot has always loved rum, he says, but he was more of an Armagnac and whiskey guy. "I like complex neat drinks. My observation was that rum was not what it should be. It's a technical challenge to start with grass, not a grain. But I said, how can we make this smooth and flavorful and balanced?" He wanted to avoid burying the flavors, as in a typical silver rum, or getting too cloying or viscous with the amber style. 

He set about traveling through the Caribbean, meeting with distillers in Jamaica, Haiti, Martinique, and Guadeloupe. But wherever he went, he says, he kept finding biases about the way rums are produced. "I thought, we will never get to better rum if we keep doing it the same old ways. I'm not saying I've achieved that, but we've gone on to produce the clean, complex drink that I wanted."

His small-batch silver rum is highly sippable and smooth, not too sweet, and free of that witch-hazel quality - perfect for drinking on its own. There are herbal notes, a sweet range in the middle with some cocoa, and a light pepper finish. Privateer Silver Reserve Rum is expanding its footprint quickly, but right now you can find it at bars like Silvertone, Forum, RumBa, and Aquitaine. An amber expression is also in the works and expected this fall. 

Privateer rum is probably a big improvement over the unpalatable stuff they were likely making back in colonial times. "We were very good at producing commodity rum here," Cabot says. "But it was not very good. Rum was always buried in drinks. It was the original cocktail; they knew they had to cover it up with a lot of fruits and flavors to make it tolerable. Rum sort of found different ways to cover up its flaws for a long time." 

So has America, coincidentally. The two really have always gone hand in hand.

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