SALEM — Rumson's Rum has been distilling alcohol at its Florence Street facility for years. It's just that now, it's alcohol that goes on your hands — you don't want to drink this stuff.
Rumson's has transformed its operations during the COVID-19 pandemic to include the production and manufacturing of hand sanitizer bearing the same Rumson pup-and-crossbones logo as the award-winning rum itself carries.
It's throwing some people for a loop — perhaps a very happy one.
"I came up to the office one morning and saw a bottle of Rumson, and said, 'Oh, is this rum?' and noticed it was hand sanitizer," said Patrick Mulligan, a deputy in the city's harbormaster office. "I was like, 'man, he's really on the ball with this.'"
The bottles have been sporadically appearing, as Eric Glass, president of Rumson manufacturer Pirate Dog Brand, has been randomly dropping them off at public safety offices around the North Shore. Police, fire and harbormaster offices in Salem, Peabody, Marblehead and Middleton have all received Rumson sanitizer.
"We're producing quite a bit of it," Glass said. "We wanted to do the right thing for the community and had an opportunity to do something, because we weren't really producing rum. Off-premises restaurants and bars were shut down for a good period of time. That's a good chunk of our business."
Rumson has been around for about six years, putting out a series of spirits that focus on the social atmosphere of sharing stories. Though it may sound pirate-y, the name of the brand actually comes from a former beloved dog of Glass' named Rumson — hence the incorporated name "Pirate Dog Brand."
"We got into it because I'm a big fan of the glamorized pirates, like the Johnny Depp 'Pirates of the Caribbean,'" Glass said. "I've been vacationing in the Caribbean and wanted to emulate that kind of lifestyle."
Going into 2020, the business was looking to have a big year.
"We were on a nice ride, thinking we could get investors now. We could pop six, seven states," he said. "Then, COVID stopped us."
But Rumson's didn't just stop. They adapted.
"When the pandemic started, the federal government sort of freed up the ability for distilleries to make hand sanitizer," Glass said. "So they said, 'You can make it. You guys make alcohol, so you can start making hand sanitizer.'"
Making sanitizer isn't as straight-forward as some might think. While the FDA was initially slow to come around on the idea, a big focus in sanitizer manufacturing under current guidelines rests on denaturing it — in other words, making it an absolutely miserable product to drink.
"I said, 'We should be denaturing,'" Glass said. "There's no reason why anyone wouldn't be doing it properly unless they're being lazy. You don't want to drink it. It's very, very bitter."
But even if it tastes horrible, the sanitizer is a hit.
"Obviously, we're trying to gear up our crews for summertime roll-out with 15 assistants that work down here, and we have to staff facilities with hand sanitizer," Mulligan said from the Salem's harbormaster office. "To have a local business show up at the door and able to supply it... It worked out great."
Mulligan said he's also a fan of Rumson's more consumable product line, "So once this pandemic is over, I hope to be able to continue to support him in that effort too."
"He (Glass) said rum sales have been very down and he had to be creative and get into something to 'help the community and keep me busy,'" Mulligan said. "He's been donating to every law enforcement department around Salem and surrounding communities."
Mulligan said it wouldn't surprise him if the sanitizer gig could turn into a secondary commercial enterprise for the rum maker.
"If he can make a buck later on, he will," Mulligan said. "It's commendable. It means a lot — especially in Salem."