With Essex County once a major rum manufacturing center for Colonial America, Maggie Campbell believes it’s only appropriate that a handful of craft distillers are again settling along the coastline north of Boston.
Campbell, head distiller at Ipswich-based Privateer Rum, said their signature lines, Silver Reserve and Amber Rum, reflect the terroir of the salt marsh. “You may taste the tangyness of the briny air in the finish or the rich oak from the hot and humid summers,” said Campbell, 29.
There’s been a renaissance of sorts for rum in New England. Why is that?
Rum is very New England-centric; it was never really made here in large volumes but it was part of trade in the Colonies. Right now there are about a half dozen rum distilleries in the region, with two more set to open soon.
Is it true that the future and worth of a distillery is in its rack house?
That’s where we age our spirits; they are put into barrels and then rest. We have just short of 100 barrels; the oldest barrel has been aging about 2½ years. Spirits shouldn’t age too much, because it covers up the nuances in the taste.
Rum is made from molasses or sugar cane juice. Some consumers insist molasses-based rums are inferior to cane juice rums, similar to the debate over single malt vs. blended whiskey. What do you think?
They are just different. It would be like picking a favorite kid. Molasses-based rums often show more sulfur. A good fermentation and a copper still will control the sulfur so it adds complexity and texture instead of offense. Sugar cane can take on a “biological” smell if not pressed and fermented quickly. When done well, though, it can be delicate and grassy. I’m thrilled to work with both.
Is it true you are the state’s first female distiller since Prohibition?
I don’t know of another female distiller here. Being a female in the industry is interesting; no one ever thinks I’m the head distiller. I am thrilled, though, to work with a spirit category that celebrates women. There are many hypotheses for their participation in the rum industry. I’m always glad to discuss it over a dram.
How much rum do you drink on a typical day?
Not that much. We taste and spit the equivalent of four ounces a day.
If I came to a party at your house and ask for a rum cocktail, what are you likely to offer?
A palmetto — a mixture of rum, vermouth, and a dash of bitters. I like it because it’s simple and easy.
Cindy Atoji Keene can be reached at cindy@cindyatoji .com.