One of the most memorable Mad Men scenes for me is from episode four of season three. It’s called The Arrangement. The scene is about a meeting between Lane Price, Bert Cooper, Don Draper and Horace Cook, who is mentioned to be tight with Bert. They discuss Horace’s son who wants Sterling Cooper to handle his questionable project called Jai Alai. Don recommended the project to be brought to Horace’s attention as Don doesn’t want to seem like he’s taking advantage of a fattened calf. While the whole meeting is full of memorable quotes, the one most applicable to this review is when Horace says the ff: “When we put that money aside for him, he was a little boy. We didn’t know what kind of person we were making”.
One has to wonder if something like this goes through the heads of to-be distillery owners. As despite the progress humanity has made in understanding and making liquor, there are still plenty of uncertainties in regards to production. The most well-known example would be how spirits from two barrels of the same size, made of the same type of wood and filled at the same time from the same batch can be so different. Even experienced distillers, who have an idea of what they want their spirit to be like, cannot exactly predict what their spirit will be like once it comes off the still. This applies to how the spirit changes as well while aging due to different factors like oak influence, barrel entry proof and climate.
In this case, the little boy would be the distillates of Privateer Rum. Andrew Cabbot would be in the situation of Horace Cook. Andrew is one of the owners and the current CEO of Privateer Distillery. The Sterling Cooper team could be seen as the distillery team and whoever put work into starting and maintaining the distillery. The money set aside would represent the money, equipment and casks meant for the distillate.
Readers who have been paying close attention to the rum world for the past three years may need no introduction to Privateer. From their head distiller, Maggie Campbell, being mentioned in the same sentence as rum legends like Foursquare’s Richard Seale, Velier’s Luca Gargano and Appleton’s Joy Spence to being the first American rum to be included in the beloved Habitation Velier series, Privateer has been the poster child for the American rum resurgence. But to those who have not yet heard of Privateer rum, behold the American rum that’s being done right. It’s a rum distillery based in Ipswich, MA. They seek to do good by the rum producing tradition of New England. One of its founders and owners, Andrew Cabot, aims to carry on the spirit of his ancestor, the original Andrew Cabot, who was an American rum Privateer and rum distiller. (For those curious about their production process, I recommend clicking on the link which leads to the Cocktail Wonk’s site).
A lot of people may not know this, but before whiskey became America’s spirit, it was originally rum. The United States, being a former British colony, used to make a lot of rum. According to this Medford article, New England had, at one point, 159 distilleries during the 1700s. But that all changed when Great Britain imposed the Molasses Act of 1733 on America. This led to protests, smuggling and eventually the preference for whiskey. The Molasses Act ended up being one of the main reasons for the American Revolution.
In line with being a new standard of rum, Privateer is never sweetened, never filtered and always honest. Their Navy Yard releases are all molasses-based, aged in new oak and single barrel proof. While the ages may vary per release, the youngest age is two years. Conceived on paper in 2010 and ground broke in 2011, and the distillery is small, so they don’t have wide distribution yet. It’s hard to get bottles even if you’re based in the US. You can get them in Seelbach’s for $40. But a huge New York-based Privateer fan I know says it’s available in the state for around $45 to $48.
Privateer Rum Navy Yard – review
Barrel P531, 54.6% abv.
On the nose: Mild ethanol heat which is expected of the abv. After the heat is medium scents and balanced exchanges of marzipan, strawberry cream candy, dried figs, cherry flavored candy, dried apricots, pineapple syrup, banana peels and dehydrated lemon peels. Behind those are lighter scents of cinnamon, orange peels, vanilla, salted caramel, canned peaches and rotting fuji apples.
In the mouth: No mild ethanol heat to greet me unlike on the nose. The round texture is immediately noticed. I love the mouthfeel in this. The strawberry cream candy is more intense and tarter here. Behind it are also balanced interchanging tastes of cherry flavored candies, marzipan, dehydrated lemons, dried figs, fresh strawberries and toffee. Behind it are lighter tastes of toffee, vanilla, cinnamon syrup and wood shavings.
I love this. A few of the rum geeks whose palates I trust say Privateer is overrated as the ones they’ve tried are just okay. But I find this to be amazing. For something aged in new oak, I expected more of the typical new American Oak flavors. But they just ended up taking a back seat while the distillates just expressed themselves. Fans of the Barbados style rum will love this due to the balance. The oak influence isn’t strong so you also taste the distillate despite being funky and pronounced as Agricole or Jamaican rum.
I wonder if the more expressive distillate has something to do with Privateer’s barrel entry proof being only at 100 proof?¹ Maggie Campbell has also mentioned they like to age their water² in tired casks. This is a technique which, I think, she learned during her days distilling a Cognac-style brandy in Germain Robin. Sadly, aging water is something I don’t completely understand yet as water is said to cause mold in casks.
The people responsible for Privateer rum should be happy about their “little boy”. They may not have known what kind of spirit they were making, but how it ended up is making people happy and doing American rum proud. Under $50 a bottle for a rum this good and made with so much care? Who cares about the age of this? This is amazing.
¹ Andrew at Privateer contacted us to confirm they typically fill barrels at 110 proof.
² Also that they don’t age water per se, but rather rest low proof barrels of similar style rum for lowering proof when required by a brand.