THE EVANGELICAL AND THE OCCULT
By Matt Gray
Photos by John Andrews
Whether you’re a Local, Visitor or Guest, you are going to want to make an addition to your mental map of Salem. It’s the DEACON GILES Distillery Tasting Room, on the corner of Gardner Street and Canal StreetIf the city is behind you, walk past Sammy’s Roast Beef and Lifebridge, and it’s on your left. If you’re coming from Swampscott, go past Bagel World and Crosby’s, and it’s on your right. Tucked behind Creedon’s Trasnmissions, the DEACON GILES Tasting Room greets you with warm exposed wooden rafters, a gorgeous wooden bar (with wood rescued from the Armory), Edison bulb lighting and a huge mural of a print from the story that gave the Distillery their name.
And then there is a fourth wall of glass, fully exposing the stainless steel and copper stills, tubs and tubes that are making their Gin and Rum. As you sip from the reclaimed wooden bar, you watch the journey from grain to glass through the glass. The Tasting Room is spacious and inviting, and yet also has the atmosphere of an artist’s studio – with the character, intensity and craft of the creators infused into the feel of the place. That’s probably because DEACON GILES is no corporate satellite – it is the personal passion project of Ian Hunter and Jesse Brenneman. Both Salem Residents and former brewers, they spent over two years making their business plan to bring this project to life. They have involved themselves in every detail – building and connecting the vats and still, painstakingly perfecting the recipes, renovating the Tasting Room as well as the design and marketing of the finished product.
Make no mistake – these are two creative professionals. They are artisans, leading from a business model that suits the scale and quality of their exceptional craft, rather than being guided solely by profit margins. When combined with FAR FROM THE TREE CIDER and the upcoming NOTCH BREWERY, DEACON GILES, Salem is hosting a bonafide Artisanal business movement that is as bold as it is welcome. Let me try and help you better grasp the level of detail Hunter and Brenneman are working from: Their recipe for Gin is probably not what you are used to. “Most Gin,” explains Hunter “is effectively vodka flavored with juniper. It’s called the ‘London Dry’ recipe. As Jesse and I both came from the brewing world, we loved working with malt. So we opted instead for the rarer ‘Old Tom’ recipe, which uses a malt base instead of a vodka base. After all, as our Scottish friends would say: ‘Beer is just whisky that hasn’t reached its’ full potential yet’. So we use a 100% malt base for our Gin and make something truly distinctive.”
“Along with the juniper that flavors our Gin, we have additional botanicals.” These, are of course, a carefully guarded secret, so Hunter isn’t able to go into any great detail here. But he does point out “we use two ingredients as a tribute to Salem. Firstly, there is rosehip, representing the beach rose which populates the shores of the city. Secondly, there is Mace (the casing, or husk, of the nutmeg), as it was on the very first spice ship to arrive in Salem from the Indies.”
And this is BEFORE we talk Rum… Their rum is flavored with 100% Molasses (part Fancy and part Black Strap).In January they will begin barrel aging their Rum, which will impart the familiar caramel tone to the liquor. For now, the Rum is white, and yet still absolutely sublime. It’s so good, I wonder why nobody else has tried making spirits in Salem. “Well, in the 1830’s there were as many as 7 distilleries in Salem’s city limits. By the 1890’s, Prohibition & Temperance had eliminated all of them.” Here Hunter lapses slightly into silent contemplation. When he’s ready, he offers “It seems to be a piece of Salem’s bipolar identity, doesn’t it? You know, The Evangelical and the Occult. It’s actually why the story of Deacon Giles stuck in my head when Jesse and I were thinking of a name.” So, from a deep personal passion for the art of distilling, matched with a respect for Salem’s own unique history, DEACON GILES is now the first working Distillery in Salem in over 100 years.
“Our Tasting Room will be open Friday’s 1pm to 6pm, and Saturdays 12pm to 5pm.” And even though you can also find their work in local Liquor Stores and Restaurants, you need to go to the Tasting Room itself. Speaking with Hunter and Brenneman only intensifies your satisfaction. They are both artists, so go and listen them speak about their work! In a lot of ways, they are like Hunter’s earlier assessment of Salem itself – “The Evangelical and the Occult”. Hunter is the talker – ‘Evangelical’ , full of passion and pride for the products. Brenneman is more ‘Occult’, breaking out of conversation to run behind the glass wall and check the temperature in the vat, or delicately turn a dial, or taste something. And always in a deep, silent concentrated state.
Leaving the Tasting Room, you feel like you’re walking away with part of Salem’s history, as well as part of its future. I hope to see you all there on Friday!
75 Canal Street
Salem MA. 01970
Friday’s 1pm to 6pm
Saturdays 12pm to 5pm