The best boss I have ever had was Nelse Clark. Rewind to 1993, West Street Grille, downtown Boston- we were just a few blocks from the combat zone, The Naked Eye strip club was still there, adjacent to an old "adult" theatre. Playland Cafe was around the corner, a few steps away from what is a Starbucks now. But only a few blocks further North, the venerable Locke Ober Cafe was still packed.
Nelse was the face of West Street, a great front man always with a smile, you wanted to know him and hang out at his spot- I was lucky to work the bar. It does not surprise me at all that he is working with Andrew Cabot now creating a unique American Rum which can hold a place of honor in the deep New England distilling history. When I walked into the Privateer warehouse outside of Ipswich the other day, his friendliness made me feel like I was walking into his bar years ago- he's still the consummate host.
Andrew Cabot (1750-1791) was a merchant and rum distiller who became one of the most successful American privateers. He deployed a fleet of ships including Pilgrim, Revolution and True American for which this Rum is named. He was said to be uncommonly clever and an astute judge of men and situations. Whether smuggling molasses past British patrols or prizing British ships, Cabot was a true American. -Andrew Cabot, 2011
Of course I was there to taste the spirits, and also meet Maggie Campbell, Privateer's terrifically talented head distiller. The warehouse itself is impressive (Nelse mentions "you definitely get more space up here in Ipswich"), with thousands of square feet dedicated to racking barrel space, fermenters, still, and true to form, a bar. After a taste of cane sugar and wonderful fig-nuanced molasses, Maggie walked me first to the NSI Canadian fermenter where sugar cane and/or molasses will sit at 72 degrees for a slow 7 day process closer to what they do in Cognac as opposed to the islands for rum. This makes sense, as one of her mentors is Hubert Germain-Robin of the famous California brandy house. Distillation in a pot still and short column still for as Maggie says, "polish."
Privateer white rum is Agricole style, meaning it is distilled entirely from sugar cane, while the amber is from both cane and molasses. Maggie is constantly tasting and refining the spirit in the process, nothing is added or filtered out. "For me it comes down to marrying alchemy and science to make the best spirit I can," and even though young, she does mentoring of her own with recent visits from aspiring distillers from Sicily and Israel. As if her job wasn't enough, she's also studying for Master of Wine certification- no wonder her spirits are so good.
Don't just listen to me, the legendary Paul Picault, gave both the silver and amber 4 stars, superb and highly recommended. This is a big deal. He raves of the amber, "slightly bittersweet, and even slightly sherried; mid palate is delicate, honeyed, gently sweet, spicy, cocoa-like." Sounds like time for a sip with an ice cube, or better yet, a cocktail. I was honored to jump behind the bar and make a-
Privateer rum old fashioned:
.5 bar spoon cane sugar, drop off water to make a syrup in the glass, 1.5 oz Privateer Amber, 2 dashes Angustura orange bitters, stirred with ice, orange peel oil and garnish.
Nelse swept in to my left and fixed what he calls a-
Mexican Garden Party:
1.5 oz Privateer Silver, .75 oz fresh lime juice, .5 oz simple syrup or agave, small handful of fresh cilantro,1/3 of a Jelepeno pepper, muddle ingredients, add ice, shake and strain.
During distillation, the first off the still is called the "heads" which is imperfection heavy, then the "heart" (desired part for finished product) and finally the "tails," which are discarded. Maggie's art is defining the cut, and her comment, I'm taking and using as a metaphor for life: "when things get tail-y it gets messy." Thank goodness we have her to watch over the process.
Privateer rums can be found at the Urban Grape, Silver $25, Amber $36.
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