Drink like a sailor: Rum aged on Navy vessel keeps historic ships afloat

Down in the hold of the historic U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year. (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
Down in the hold of the historic USS Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year. (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery) (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
The barrels are loaded on and off the historic ship using ropes and pulleys. (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery) (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
Tobacco Barn Distillery ages its rum the way sailors did more than 150 years ago. The rocking of the tide helps the spirit to develop flavor. (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
Down in the hold of the historic U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year.  (Courtesy Tobacco Farm Distillery)
Down in the hold of the historic USS Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year. (Courtesy Tobacco Farm Distillery) (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
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Down in the hold of the historic U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year. (Courtesy Tobacco Barn Distillery)
Down in the hold of the historic U.S.S. Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year.  (Courtesy Tobacco Farm Distillery)
November 29, 2019 | Rum aged on a ship: 'It makes it taste awesome' (WTOP's Rachel Nania)

WASHINGTON — March’s string of bomb cyclones and nor’easters are a nuisance for those craving more springlike weather, but the winter storms are good news for one local distillery.

Down in the hold of the historic USS Constellation in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor are four barrels of rum that have been aging on the ship for a year.

Each day, the barrels from Maryland’s Tobacco Barn Distillery rock with the flow of the tide. When storm surges come through, they shake the spirit up.

This continuous action and agitation is the secret ingredient in a special batch of Tobacco Barn Distillery rum, aptly named USS Constellation Rum.

“You get more action between the rum and the barrel; it pulls out more flavor,” said Scott Sanders, a retired Navy Admiral and partner at Tobacco Barn Distillery.

“It also oxidizes it quicker, so you get a smoother tasting rum.”

On Thursday, March 22, Tobacco Barn Distillery will be offloading these four barrels — its second batch aged on the boat — and bringing four more on board, using the same process to move the 500-pound drums of rum as Navy sailors used in the mid-19th century.

There are no hydraulics and no fancy technologies — just ropes, pulleys and lots of manpower.

Sanders said the amount of work required to get the product on and off the ship is why other distilleries don’t age their spirits on the water, even if it does produce a better-tasting drink. It will take a whole day to move the eight barrels on March 22. 

But Sanders and his team decided to partner with the historic wartime ship to “highlight our maritime heritage in Maryland.”

A portion of sales from USS Constellation Rum — made with all Maryland ingredients, including Domino molasses — goes to Historic Ships in Baltimore.

Sanders encourages the public to stop by and watch some of the on- and offloading process. Chesapeake Bay Roasting Co. will be on site pouring coffee for the crowd.

Chris Rowsom, executive director of Historic Ships in Baltimore, said if you can’t make it out for the event, visitors will be able to see the barrels on the ship’s tours. The roughly 1,600 bottles of USS Constellation Rum will be sold in area stores this spring, including Total Wine, for $56.

The USS Constellation is located at Pier 1, Constellation Dock, 301 E. Pratt St., Inner Harbor in Baltimore, Maryland. The action is set to start around 9 a.m. The event will also be livestreamed.


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