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Every January, when citrus fruits are at their peak, the staff of Privateer Rum in Ipswich gathers with a few volunteers to hand-zest a whole lot of fruit—key lime, grapefruit, mandarin orange, tangerine. The blend changes every year, and the precise amount is a state secret.

The citrus is destined for Privateer Seasonal Release Gin, the brainchild of master distiller Maggie Campbell that was originally conceived as a one-off but is now entering its third release this spring. The citrus is combined with a mixture of classic gin spices (think juniper and coriander) and tiki-inspired flavors like pomegranate, nutmeg, cinnamon, pineapple, and new this year—mango. The aroma is intoxicating.

“It’s like you’ve died and gone to tiki heaven,” says Bob McCoy, director of on-premise sales for Privateer and a veteran of the zesting chore.

All of these freshly prepared flavorings are layered into a maceration bag, and dropped into a vat of Privateer Silver Reserve Rum for two nights and one day. Then the spirit is distilled one last time to marry the flavorings with the white rum before hibernating in a steel tank until May, when it is bottled and released to much adulation from the local spirits-drinking community. The final product, Privateer Seasonal Release Gin, is smooth, slightly fruity, and very versatile in a wide variety of cocktails.

With spring teasing in the air, McCoy, who developed his mixology skills under the tutelage of Jackson Cannon at Boston’s acclaimed Eastern Standard, wanted to put together a cocktail that celebrates the season, as well as the unique flavor profile of Privateer’s offering. His invention, the Bartram, is a sprightly blend of rhubarb syrup and gin, with a hint of basil and strawberry.

“Rhubarb is one of the few things that are still only available in the spring,” says McCoy—much like Privateer’s gin, whose small production (this year, just shy of 500 cases) always sells out fast. McCoy named the drink for John Bartram, who is known as the first grower of rhubarb in America.

Honoring the pure, fresh flavors of the hand-zested citrus in the gin, McCoy started with a cold-process rhubarb syrup, letting a mash-up of equal parts fresh rhubarb and sugar sit for a few hours to extract the juice. “The cold-process carries over all the bright aromatics and fresh flavors to the syrup, which are sometimes lost when cooking,” McCoy says. While the process only takes a few hours, McCoy says if you’re in a hurry, you can coax it along by muddling and stirring, but with a little patience, osmosis does most of the work for you. 

As is the case with Privateer’s annual gin release, good things come to those who wait.

Privateer Rum

28 Mitchell Rd., Ipswich