SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

March 16, 2011

Rum's in the family

Ipswich distillery inspired by privateer ancestor

By Bethany Bray
Staff Writer

It seems Andrew Cabot has inherited not only his name, but some business sense and a taste for rum from his ancestor.

Andrew Cabot, a merchant and privateer who lived 1750 to 1791, rolled barrels of molasses off sailing ships down the pier to his Beverly rum distillery.

Six generations later, Cabot's descendant of the same name has started a rum distillery in nearby Ipswich, using forklifts to heft pallets of cane sugar and custom-made tanks in his Mitchell Road operation.

Beverly natives Andrew Cabot and Nelse Clark have started Privateer Rum, a distillery of single-malt whiskey and rum inspired by Cabot's ancestor. The duo, who have been friends since elementary school, aim to use top-of-the-line ingredients to create a premium product — something they feel is missing in the American rum market.

"We're not producing it the simple way, we're producing it the hard way," Clark said. "We believe in an artisanal and handcrafted (product)."

"There's a great joy in making something wonderful and doing it the way you want to do it," Cabot said.

Construction is almost complete at the Privateer Rum distillery, a 6,600-square-foot former wood shop in a Mitchell Road warehouse. They hope to have a finished product to distribute over the summer.

Wooden barrels are stacked against the distillery's walls, alongside the rose-colored copper still, agitator and fermenter tanks; in the middle of the warehouse is the beginnings of a bar and counter space.

Once finished, Cabot and Clark hope to have tours, tastings, social and educational events at the distillery.

"We see education as a big opportunity for us," Clark said. "We want to promote Ipswich as a destination."

As the company gets off the ground, Clark and Cabot have hired Eric Watson, a master distiller from West Virginia and consultant to numerous rum companies.

With Watson's expertise, Privateer Rum will turn out an amber, gold-colored product with a "residual sweetness," he said.

"Like a fine wine, you can add real flavor to it," Watson said. "(It will have) the sippability and complexity of a single-malt whiskey."

There are no premium rums in the U.S. market like this, Watson said. The majority of Americans think of rum as a mixing drink, something to be added to cola or a tropical cocktail.

"We're trying to re-create something that's extinct," Watson said. "In the 1700s, America was the biggest producer of rum (in the world)."

Eventually, Privateer products will be sold in stores and restaurants, Cabot said. The distillery is partnering with Mercury Brewing, a craft beer brewer in Ipswich, to create the base for their whiskey.

Cabot and Clark spent some time in California distilling to get some practice in before launching their own company.

"How do we create this wonderful, rich, complex drink out of cane product? It's a great challenge," Cabot said.

In searching for a headquarters for their company, Cabot and Clark knew they wanted to be close to Beverly, where the original Andrew Cabot's distillery was. They settled on Ipswich because they liked its charm, history and "craftsman spirit," Clark said.

"The spirit of Ipswich fits our goals," he said.

Clark, a real estate developer and former Boston restaurant owner, lives in Newport, R.I. Cabot, who has worked in information technology and taught second grade, lives in Boston.

Cabot began researching his namesake ancestor just as he was thinking about starting his own business.

Among the cargo lists, rosters from Cabot's 20-plus privateer ships and other documents he researched, he found Cabot's signature.

Seeing that signature, written with his namesake's own hand, "breathed life" into his plans to start a rum distillery, Cabot said.

"You just can't help getting excited," he said. "How could you not want to learn more?"

Staff writer Bethany Bray can be reached at bbray@salemnews.com and on Twitter @SNewsBethany.