By Bethany Bray
---- — IPSWICH — In two years, Mat Perry and Evan Parker have morphed from a schoolteacher and clam farmer into rum-makers.
“The learning curve is still straight up,” Perry said. “I’m used to getting a paycheck and being told what to do. ... It’s a learning experience every day.”
The duo, Ipswich natives and childhood friends, started Turkey Shore Distilleries in 2010; their first bottles of Old Ipswich Rum hit the market in June 2011.
This fall, Turkey Shore won two industry awards from the Ministry of Rum: a silver medal in the flavored rum category for its Old Ipswich Golden Marsh Spiced Rum and a gold medal in the dark rum category for its Old Ipswich Tavern Style Rum.
It all started with an idea “that wouldn’t leave me alone,” Perry said: to start a rum business. Perry pitched the idea to his friend Evan Parker, who grew up down the street from him.
The two did some research, decided it was a viable idea, and “next thing you know, we’re quitting our jobs in a recession,” Perry said.
They make their rum in a warehouse on Hayward Street, next door to the Ipswich Ale Brewery. Perry’s dog, Delia, who is pictured in the Turkey Shore logo, or Parker’s dog, Tank, often greet visitors at the door.
On a recent morning, the sour smell of fermentation permeated the space, while a gurgling sound meant rum was passing through the copper still into the condenser. Stacked oak barrels lined the walls, and a 2,200-gallon molasses tank sat in the corner.
It takes roughly 21/2 weeks for molasses, water and yeast to combine in open-top fermenters, take two trips through Turkey Shore’s 250-gallon distiller, and go through a condenser and filter system. After that, it ages in new oak barrels for roughly one year before being sold.
The copper still, specially designed for Turkey Shore, was built to capture flavor, Perry said.
“For us, it’s about maximizing flavor,” he said.
Turkey Shore rums are meant to be sippable, consumed “neat,” on the rocks or combined in cocktails. As a craft distiller, Turkey Shore is part of a growing number of artisan rum-makers — the antithesis of the commercially made rums that many people think of for a rum and cola or tropical drink.
“Rum is the fastest-growing segment (of spirit-makers),” Perry said. “The word ‘premium rum’ didn’t exist 10 years ago.”
Turkey Shore makes white and tavern-style rums year-round and recently introduced limited-edition seasonal rums. The Golden Marsh fall rum is made with cinnamon, orange peel, nutmeg and other spices.
A bottle of the white rum retails for about $22, while the tavern-style is between $24 and $26, Perry said.
Perry was a rum drinker and aficionado before going into the business, he said. Previously, he taught high school history; Parker was an Ipswich clammer. They are both 35.
Now, Perry runs the business side of Turkey Shore while Parker concentrates on the rum-making. Parker took several intensive courses on distilling as their business was getting off the ground.
“From there, it was trial and error,” Perry said. “I have to say we produced some pretty lousy stuff (at first). But you have to start somewhere.”
Parker and Perry are Turkey Shore’s only full-time employees. They produce approximately 10,000 bottles of rum per year.
Perry said they’d like to increase production — they plan on moving into Ipswich Ale’s space next door, once the company opens its new brewery downtown. That will allow Turkey Shore to expand a little and offer more tours and tastings, he said.
But they’ll always be a regional brand, he said, keeping the majority of sales at liquor stores, bars and restaurants in New England.
The business name comes from the street Parker and Perry grew up on: Turkey Shore Road.
After doing a little research, Perry discovered that his childhood home was the site of a Colonial-era rum producer. Ships would come in on the Ipswich River and unload molasses and other ingredients on a wharf, the stone remnants of which are still in the backyard of Perry’s parents’ house.
In Colonial times, the street was called Prospect Street and the shoreline was called Turkey Shore, he said.
With that in mind, Parker and Perry try to stick with Colonial methods, such as using molasses and oak barrels. Their two open-top fermenters are named John Heard and William Story Jr., the two original owners of the rum operation that ran from 1770 to 1836 at Turkey Shore.
“We’re trying to replicate what an old New England rum distillery would have worked like,” Perry said. “... (Owning this business) allows me to be the history geek that I wanted to be.”
The first two years have had their ups and downs, from learning the flux of the sales market to industry regulation and licensure. Yet, Perry says he doesn’t regret his job change.
“We get to meet interesting people, and at the end of the day, you make booze,” he said, breaking into a smile.
Bethany Bray can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SalemNewsBB.