Consider rum a local food.
In an industrial park in Ipswich, Privateer Rum is rolling out the Hungarian, French and American oak barrels and firing up the shiny distilling equipment to make an artisanal rum like a "fine spirit."
It's owners, Andrew Cabot and Nelse Clark, are playing around with toasted and charred oak, and have brought in a professional blender to tease out different themes: masculine rum with notes of sandalwood and cinnamon, and a feminine, buttery rum with a "velvety, silky mouth-feel."
Cabot and Clark say their product is part art and part science, which makes it a premium bottle that we should reach for the way we might reach for a cognac.
Rum is made from a grass, not a grain, just the beginning of the technical challenges to creating a fine liquor from it; Privateer begins with great raw materials — molasses for the English style of making rum, and sugar cane, for the French Agricole style of rum-making, which Cabot claims has less bacterial fermentation, and produces a rum more in the style of a wine.
The distillery has been filling barrels only since last June, but Privateer has already won a Silver Medal at the 2011 Ministry of Rum Tasting Competition in San Francisco.
At one point, Massachusetts was rum, producing 70 percent of the colony's needs for the drink, which was large.
According to Wikipedia, Colonial men, women and children consumed 14 gallons of the stuff a year. Paul Revere, Cabot claimed, was said to have stopped in Medford for a rum on his historic ride. Rum was so much in demand in early 18th century that it was its own currency, traded in Europe like gold.
New England rum was an integral part — one solid leg — in the slave trade triangle.
With so much available lumber and cooperage for barrels, and a hefty molasses trade to the Islands, rum was the colonies' most lucrative business until after the Revolutionary War. The Molasses Act, the Sugar Act, and eventually the Stamp Act — all taxes imposed by the British to control the lucrative business, and to fund its support of the Colonies in the French and Indian War — ignited the colonist tempers that began the Revolution. After the war, whiskey, heavily endorsed by George Washington, replaced rum as the American drink.
Privateer Rum in Ipswich has roots that reach back to those 18th century days, when private citizens amassed great fortunes in rum and privateering, businesses that went hand in glove.
Andrew Cabot, upon researching his family history, discovered an ancestor six generations back — also an Andrew Cabot — who had been a successful privateer, and who owned a rum distillery on Water Street in Beverly.
Privateers were private citizens who basically made up the navy our budding country couldn't afford, freely attacking British merchant ships of behalf of our independence, but happily keeping the booty for themselves. On a good day they were considered a merchant marines, on a bad day they were pirates. When they won, they won big, but they also took all the risks of being on the seas and engaging in battle.
As Cabot says, privateers made millionaires out of fish mongers by filling a great social void. Rum went along with those fortunes.
Now, 200 years later, the Cabots are back in the New England rum business — no slavery, no pirates, just a beautifully produced spirit of which perhaps that most genteel of colonists, Thomas Jefferson, who had so hoped to make fine wine the American beverage, would be proud.
Privateer produces a white rum — usually destined to be a cocktail — but the Privateer version is gorgeously sip-able even without the ginger beer and basil. I tasted it neat, in a Dark and Stormy, and a few more variations.
The Privateer Amber rum doesn't taste like rum at all, but like something served in a snifter and savored by a fire.
Privateer is making rum a fine local product once again.
Rosemary Ruby Cocktail
11/2 ounces Privateer Silver
2 ounces ruby grapefruit juice
1/2 ounce simple syrup
Shake first three ingredients in a shaker, and serve over ice with a sprig of rosemary.
2 ounces Privateer Amber
1/2 ounce toasted cinnamon simple syrup
1/2 ounce lime juice
Shake all ingredients in a shaker, and serve either up in a martini glass or on ice in a cocktail glass.
Toasted cinnamon simple syrup:
Hold a cinnamon stick gently over the flame on your stove until lightly charred, and tuck it into either your own simple syrup or a purchased bottle. Allow to infuse.
Food for Thought runs weekly in the Times' Taste of the Times section and is written by Heather Atwood, an author and mother from Rockport. Questions and comments can be sent to Heather at email@example.com. And follow her blog at www.heatheratwood.com