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Ironworks Distillery: How a Tiny Boat Plays a Big Part in Making Rum

When Lynne MacKay and Pierre Guevremont founded Ironworks Distillery in Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, back in 2009, they formulated what they thought was a pretty definite business plan. “We were planning to make only aged and unaged fruit Brandies,” Lynne says, “sourcing all of our raw ingredients from right here in the province.”

They chose a beautiful 19th-century building, the historic site of Thomas Walters’ blacksmith shop that once catered to the shipbuilding trade along the province’s south shore, forging anchors, chains, and everything else nautical. Lynne and Pierre renovated the building a bit to accommodate their needs, but honored its rich history by preserving most of the character and displaying some of the original blacksmithing equipment (like one of the brick fireplaces and huge bellows), and even choosing a blacksmith-themed name.

As they worked in the building, simultaneously trying to learn all the aspects of the distilling business, curious passersby would often pop their heads in the door, asking zillions of questions about the spirits they were planning on making. And that’s how Lynne, a self-professed “Scotch girl,” discovered an important fact that altered their original business plan: “One of the most common questions I got,” Lynne says, “was, ‘What kind of Rum are you going to make?’ Apparently, Nova Scotia is bonkers for Rum.”

Turns out, Nova Scotia has quite a rich Rum-running history, thanks in part to countless hidden alcoves and secret ports tucked along the expansive shore, not to mention its location on the infamous Prohibition-era “Rum Row” that stretched along the eastern seaboard of North America, from Canada, all the way down to the Caribbean.

So Lynne and Pierre decided to make Rum, too, and that presented a new problem—Rum requires sugar cane, but they were still intent on sourcing only local ingredients, and sugar cane isn’t grown in Nova Scotia. “In the end,” Lynne says, “we decided to use Crosby’s molasses. It’s grown in Guatemala but processed right here in the Maritimes.”

One day, while working in the distillery, Pierre turned to Lynne and announced, “We need a boat.” Lynne wasn’t sure they should take on a purchase like that so soon after opening the distillery, but Pierre quickly explained: Since Rum’s aging process requires humidity, consistent temperature, and constant movement (the “motion of the ocean”), he thought that aging their Rum on a boat was the perfect solution. They found the hull of an old fishing vessel, named it “Black Beauty” (because a boat without a name is bad luck, they knew), and anchored it out in the harbor. Black Beauty has a 24-barrel capacity, and the 20 or so barrels that hold the Rum are brought ashore twice a year to be bottled.

In January 2018, a harsh winter storm descended upon Canada’s maritime provinces, with intense 120-kilometer winds and harsh waves whipping through Lunenburg Harbor. Black Beauty was ripped loose from her moorings, and after thrashing and bobbing through the water for hours, she eventually came to rest on the opposite side of the harbor—near the shore that’s just steps from the distillery. “It’s like she wanted to come home,” Lynne laughs. Miraculously, Black Beauty suffered only very minor damage and all the Rum barrels were intact. That Rum was later bottled as a special “Shipwrecked Edition.”

Black Beauty isn’t the only nautical vessel charged with aging Ironworks’ Rum. There are also four barrels aboard the Picton Castle, a Lunenburg-based, three-masted tall ship currently making its final around-the-world voyage, due back in Lunenburg in May 2019. When that Rum is released, it will be known as “Around the World Rum,” sold in special porcelain bottles designed by potters at the Lunenburg School of the Arts that will be produced by the Revol Company, a 270-year-old porcelain factory in France.

Rum Boat Rum isn’t the only Rum to come out of the distillery. Ironworks’ Bluenose Rum—named after the fishing schooner considered to be the most famous ship in Canadian history—is a two-year Rum blended with caramel, molasses, and spices. Ironworks’ Amber Rum, usually two years old, is what Lynne calls “basic and delicious,” and she says their 5-Year Rum “speaks for itself.” They’ll eventually have a 10-year Rum, but it hasn’t been 10 years yet since they started making Rum.

Just as they intended at the beginning, Lynne and Pierre also craft a number of aged and unaged Brandies, made with local fruits like pears, apples, blueberries, and cranberries. The Pear Eau-de-Vie is even available with a whole pear at the bottom of the bottle. They also make two types of Gin, including an award-winning aged version, and a popular Vodka crafted from local apples. Ironworks’ special recipes are all developed by instinct, Lynne says. “I’m a cook. I rely on my taste buds, not on numbers or instruments.”

Stop by the distillery, 2 Kempt Street in Lunenburg, to sample Ironworks’ artisan spirits; meet Berghitta, the 210-liter-capacity still imported from Germany, and watch her in action; and marvel at the historic blacksmithing equipment that makes the rustic and cozy tasting room look something like a museum. And don’t forget to ask Lynne, Pierre, or any of the other helpful distillery staff to point out Black Beauty: If you know just where to look, you’ll see her hard at work, back in place right across the harbor.

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