Wednesday, October 17, 2012

:: privateer rum distillery ::

While at the Boston Cocktail Summit, I met a handful of distillers with several of them being from local distilleries. Two of them, namely Privateer and Turkey Shore, were not only enthusiastic about me visiting but were pretty close to each other in Ipswich, MA, and suggested that we coordinate a double visit.  So yesterday, I hopped on the commuter rail and headed north.

The last distillery I visited was GrandTen in South Boston. It was interesting in comparing and contrasting each distillery's angle on their product. For example, one of the two people behind GrandTen is a classically trained chemist, and the way that they perfected each round of prototype gins definitely had a focused, scientific way about it.

The distiller for Privateer is Maggie Campbell, and her initial classical training was getting a philosophy degree. She traced her interests in distilling to prior to graduation; when she was 20, she visited the Oban distillery in Scotland and became fascinated by the tour. After college, her life path took her to wine school in Denver to become a sommelier, which definitely paid off later in training her nose for shaping her spirits. She found a job at a boutique beer and store, and when she suggested that they also sell spirits, it became her job to research what they should carry. As she got into home brewing, she began writing people for advice about books about beer and spirits. Her email correspondence with the Germain-Robin distillery paid off for there was soon an opening for an assistant distiller, and she worked there for nearly a year. The owner of Privateer Rum, Andrew Cabot, was in need of a distiller who could take their product to the next level, and when he contacted Germain-Robin for a recommendation, they suggested Maggie.

From a historical side, Andrew traced his lineage back to another Andrew Cabot who was a rum distiller and was also involved in privateering activities during the Revolutionary War period.  His ancestor's distillery was in nearby Beverly, MA.  While I did get to meet Andrew at the Boston Cocktail Summit, he was away on business during my visit.
Although there are other products in the works, Privateer has two main offerings, their silver and amber rums. The silver is made from evaporated cane juice and brown sugar with the former having apple and fruitier notes and the latter having some molasses-like ones; skipping molasses proper for the unoaked rum provides for a smoother spirit since molasses takes quite some time in the barrel to tame. The silver rum is treated like an eau de vie on the still to bring out more aromatics and delicate notes. The amber, on the other hand, is made from molasses and brown sugar; the molasses is an early pull than black strap so it has figgy and softer flavors instead of a darker, raisiny one. For the amber, the still is treated as if it were a whiskey run. Maggie's approach has changed the rum from where it was with the previous distiller, and from my tasting, it seems to be for the better. Months ago, I remember tasting the old silver rum, and I recall more tropical fruit notes; the current silver rum reflects that eau de vie technique and the rum contains more orchard fruit notes including apple and quince. While I did taste the amber back then, my mental notes were not strong enough to describe how the new amber rum has changed, but indeed, both were quite well done.

For ferments, the methodology is long, cool, and slow to create deeper and richer flavors and to minimize as much of the aromatics from being carried off with the carbon dioxide. While 24 hour to 3 day ferments are common in rum, Privateer's product takes a full 7 days. For a yeast, they use a European yeast strain that the original distiller selected from Scotland. The still, pictured above has the capability of being run as either a pot or a column still; the first or stripping run is done solely as a pot and the second or spirit run uses the hybrid pot-column.
One thing that Maggie spoke about was the art of élevage or the art of aging wine. Privateer uses a wide variety of barrels including second fill Bourbon and third fill brandy barrels, and the end product is an artful blend to reach the desired flavor profile. I found it interesting how Andrew, the owner, requires Maggie to devote 20% of her time to experimentation whether it be ways of improving the current products or creating new ones. One of the interesting ones that she spoke of was a single barrel experimental series using various wild and cultured yeast, with the wild yeast being collected from interesting geographical and agricultural regions.

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