IPSWICH — A love of history — and an entrepreneur's drive — has motivated an Ipswich resident to launch a modern-day venture to make old-fashioned rum.
And it could be served as early as this summer.
Mathew Perry, 33, who lived in the city for close to a decade, is launching Turkey Shore Distilleries in Ipswich with childhood friend, Evan Parker.
The business is in their hometown, but Perry said much of his motivation came from his appreciation of Newburyport history.
Perry first came up with the idea to start a distillery while in graduate school at Dartmouth College in 2007.
"There was never really a question about what we would make. I happen to love rum, but I loved the strong connection to a forgotten piece of New England's past, as well," he said. "However, I could never shake the idea that I was crazy and that no one cared about rum, or its local connection, enough for a viable business idea. Besides, I had a great job that I loved."
Then, in 2009, Perry picked up a copy of Newburyport Magazine and read an article about the history of the rum business in the city.
"(It) seemed to affirm all of what made me interested," he said. "It was after the article that I decided to quit teaching and focus on this idea."
He was a history teacher at Pingree School in South Hamilton.
Plans were discussed over dinner and drinks at the former Newburyport Irish tavern Rosie O'Shea's and, later, The Port Tavern.
"We would bounce ideas off of Brett Bashah, who was bartending there, and he would brainstorm with us. Those were a lot of fun," Perry said.
After many planning sessions, Perry and Parker began making their moves.
"I thought this was a unique opportunity to combine my love for rum and history into a business," said Perry, a graduate of Governor Dummer Academy.
After graduating from Dickinson College in 2000, he moved to Newburyport, where he lived for about 10 years.
"Turkey Shore references the site of an old distillery (in Ipswich), and that is also the name of road Evan and I grew up on," Perry said. "This has a lot of local history."
It has cost about $400,000 to get started, most of which came from family sources, Perry said. The still alone cost $117,000.
Both men are self-taught in the art of making the beverage, though Parker attended several institutes to acquire hands-on knowledge.
"We've done a lot of planning, and we feel that there's a market for local spirits," said Parker, who is the distillery manager. "I think people will appreciate the fact that this is made locally, and there's a lot of history behind the making of rum in this area."
Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane byproducts, such as molasses, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then aged in oak barrels. The majority of the world's rum production occurs in Caribbean and Latin American countries.
After rum's development in the Caribbean in the 17th century, the drink's popularity spread. The first rum distillery in North America was set up in 1664. Local historians say that the manufacture of rum became early Colonial New England's largest and most prosperous industry.
Many ships coming into Newburyport from the Caribbean carried molasses, and the resulting commerce helped fuel development of the waterfront. Local businessmen adept at metalworking and cask-making carried out a lively trade by manufacturing these storage units. Turkey Shore Distilleries will produce premium white rum and aged gold rum. Some of the product will be held back to be used as a future sipping rum.
Perry said his aim is to "create a line of handcrafted rums, using the small-batch process and premium ingredients, with flavors and complexity seldom tasted in today's big-business-dominated industry."
One of the startup's biggest challenges has been completing paperwork for the required permits. The team recently received its federal permit after filling out a 79-page application.
They will target taverns and restaurants on the North Shore during their first year and hope to popularize their premium label, Old Ipswich Rum.
"We're going to be talking with a lot of tavern and restaurant owners in Newburyport," Perry said. "It's a great town for bars and restaurants, and we feel that our product will be a natural for customers there."