Pick up a bottle of Privateer rum and you’ll notice the back label is signed by hand—a final personal touch on the Ipswich distiller’s carefully handcrafted product.
Bryan Satter, whose initials sometimes appear on the bottles in liquor stores in several states and all around the North Shore, has been practicing his signature since he was 10 years old, when he had dreams of playing for the Red Sox.
“This is the closest I’ve gotten,” says Ipswich resident Satter, who is part of a team of parents with students at Ipswich’s two elementary schools, Paul F. Doyon Memorial and Winthrop School, working a few hours a week sticking labels on the bottles. Preparing some 275 bottles per shift, they earn an hourly wage they can choose to keep or donate to the schools.
“When people hear rum distillery and elementary school in the same breath, they sit up straight and take notice,” says Christopher DeStefano, the company’s director of tours and hospitality, with a laugh. But the reality is more coffee klatch than cocktail hour.
The parents chat about everything from school committee meetings to bedtimes and play dates, gathering advice and insight along the way. “We talk about town politics, outrageous Internet stuff, get advice on parenting…but most of all we laugh,” says Tanya Smith, who has been working labeling shifts at the distillery for more than two years.
It’s a unique solution to the growing pains at Privateer. Since opening its doors just five years ago, the distiller has quickly secured an international reputation for its small-batch rums and gins. This past spring, the brand’s flagship Queen’s Share rum scored 99 points at the Ultimate Spirits Challenge in New York and took home the best-in-category “Chairman’s Trophy,” competing against some of the biggest names in the rum business. Queen’s Share also garnered a glowing 5-star review from the Spirit Journal, which named head distiller Maggie Campbell among the top female blenders in the country.
Currently, Privateer produces four rums: Silver, Amber, Queen’s Share, and Navy, along with a seasonal Tiki-inspired gin released every May and coveted by every craft bartender on the North Shore.
To keep up with demand, the distiller tripled production in 2014. Owner Andrew Cabot felt strongly about retaining the personal touch and quality control that comes from hand-labeling each bottle, but the small staff couldn’t keep up.
The parent workers can collect their hourly wage, currently $15 per hour, or donate a portion or the full amount to the schools. Whatever the parent chooses to donate, Privateer will match. And if the parent donates all their earnings, Privateer adds $5 per hour and then matches it, giving a total of $40 per hour worked. Thus far, the partnership has resulted in more than $6,000 donated by Privateer to the two schools.
In addition to the camaraderie and the money for the schools, a lot of other perks come with the job—everything from Privateer swag and rum tasting dinners to spa trips and occasionally bringing home a mislabeled bottle.
“It’s definitely one of the most interesting elementary school fundraisers I’ve ever heard of,” says Britt Garland, one of the labelers and president of the Friends of Ipswich Elementary Schools/Doyon, the school’s parent-teacher organization. She says the money is used for everything from afterschool enrichments to items that teachers request—from playground balls to iPads. “It’s always nice to do something where the money goes directly to the schools.”
Satter, the token male on the labeling team, gets a lot out of the job. “It’s the one time in my life where I just listen, and it’s great,” he says. “I’m building a relationship with people my kids will be in school with for the next 10 years. It’s worth it.”