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A Love of the Ocean and Rum Inspires Sea Hagg Distillery

By Pamela Sosnowski

When Heather Hughes and Ron Vars decided to explore the rum business several years ago, neither knew a thing about how to actually make the liquor. Hughes previously worked in medical administration and Vars came from the seafood industry.

Dissatisfied with their careers and looking for a new direction, what they did have was a passion for the sweet flavored spirit and the ocean, and an insatiable appetite to learn everything there was to know about distilling and selling rum.

In 2012, their dream of operating their own rum plant came true when they opened Sea Hagg Distillery on Lafayette Road in North Hampton. The microdistillery produces a variety of rums, fruit brandies, eau-de-vie, and specialty products in small batches that are sold at the distillery and are available for wholesale.

All of the spirits are fermented, distilled, aged, and bottled on-site, and made using sugarcane molasses that is grown in the USA. Sea Hagg's fruit brandies and eau-de-vie products are made with produce from local farms and grocers.

The rum is created using traditional copper fixtures that preserve natural flavors. "Rum is a distilled spirit," explains Hughes. "It is fermented like beer in the beginning and then goes through a still to concentrate the alcohol content. It is usually aged in barrels before it is bottled. Rum has to be at a minimum of 80 proof or 40% alcohol content to be called rum, unless it is a specialty spirit. By law (it) has to be made from a cane sugar product like molasses, cane juice or sugar."

Hands-on detail is given to every step of the distillation process, including preparing the barrels the liquor is aged in. The new, hand-made barrels are custom toasted and charred to Sea Hagg's specifications and allowed to age in the New Hampshire seacoast air. The products are bottled by hand and wax dipped to seal.

The distillery sells a variety of rums including Irish-style whiskey and fruit brandies. "Our best sellers are the blueberry rum and spiced rum," says Hughes. "Sea Hagg Blueberry Rum is a slightly sweet, all-natural blueberry rum. It is on our 80 proof white rum base made with real wild Maine blueberries and it is very blue!"

Inside the front door, visitors are usually greeted by Hughes' resident "distillery dog." Complimentary tours and tastings are conducted on Fridays, Saturdays, and Sundays. "We usually begin with a sample of one of spirits and then head to production area to explain our processes and history," states Hughes. "We conclude with more samples in our retail area. Most of our spirits are available for purchase on-site. We also sell glasses and t-shirts."

Hughes and Vars' passion for what they do comes through in the taste of their products, and keeps satisfied rum lovers from all over New England coming back for more.

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