SALEM, Mass. — Deacon Giles Distillery co-founder Ian Hunter got the idea for his rum and gin distillery from the 1835 story of a demon-infused fictional distillery in Salem of the same name.

After more than two years of planning and months of toil, the Deacon Giles Distillery and tasting room opened at last on Oct. 30.

Deacon Giles is now one of four Massachusetts craft distilleries north of Boston, including Ryan and Wood Distilleries of Gloucester, and Privateer International and Turkey Shore Distilleries, both of Ipswich.

Still, craft distilleries are far less plentiful than craft breweries; the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources lists 16 craft distillers in the entire state. Deacon Giles is the 17th on this list.

“Surreal,” said Hunter of the opening, which attracted 100 visitors for tastings that Friday and Saturday, the latter day being Halloween.

“It was a mad dash to the end,” he said. “We were putting in about, probably, 80-hour weeks for the last two months to try and get all the equipment up and operating and get the space finished off.”


The micro distillery, which employs three people so far, takes its name from an 1835 temperance tract written by firebrand Salem minister George Barrell Cheever.

It tells the story of a fictional deacon named Amos Giles, a greedy man who ran a distillery, abused his workers, but also sold Bibles from his counting room.

When Giles’ workers quarreled, they walked off the job, and Giles, desperate to find people to distill rum on the Sabbath, hired a motley crew and locked them in the distillery to work overnight.

The crew turned out to be demons who, to get back at Giles for “offering rum and Bibles to his workmen,” wrote invisible inscriptions on the caskets such as “consumption sold here.” The sayings would burn with the fires of hell when the barrels were tapped.

The story itself caused an uproar in its day in Salem as a thinly veiled swipe at a local Unitarian deacon named John Stone, who owned a rum distillery on what is now Front and Washington streets, Hunter said. Cheever was whipped in the streets by the foreman of Stone’s distillery and convicted of libel. He spent time in jail and was later driven from Salem.

“It really plays to what Salem was and is,” Hunter said of the story. “There has always been this balance of the righteous and the occult, or good and evil, and who is right and who is wrong, and who won in this story is a matter of interpretation.”

Today, there are no demons at the new Deacon Giles distillery, which Hunter co-founded with friend, Jesse Brenneman. They worked together at Harpoon Brewery and are fans of home brewing.

It started with a home brew

Hunter, 39, and his wife, Sarah – the couple has two kids – have lived in Salem since 2001, and Brenneman, a New Hampshire native, has lived in Salem for about a year.

Hunter formerly worked in IT, then moved to a boutique instrument manufacturer where he learned about accounting, production management and inventory.

About eight years ago, Hunter began working at Harpoon Brewery, where he was its controller. Brenneman was a brewer there and the pair became friends.

When asked why he took the leap to open his own distillery, Hunter explained a decade ago, he thought home brewing would be a good way to make a living, and he thought Salem would be the perfect place to do this.

So he wrote a business plan for a brewery and stumbled upon the story of Deacon Giles.

“It stuck with me,” Hunter said. He put the business plan aside, got a job at Harpoon and worked his way up.

Then, on a trip to Bermuda with his wife, the pair were sitting outside the hotel, drinking a rum and ginger beer cocktail called a Dark and Stormy, and he noticed how Goslings Rum had inundated the island. The story of Deacon Giles flared up in his memory, re-igniting the idea of opening a craft distillery in Salem.

Brenneman also wanted to branch out, but he needed someone to run the business – Hunter. About 21/2 years ago, they started writing their business plan.

The pair are not saying how much they invested, other than “a lot.” They financed the distillery through personal assets, some bank financing and some equity investment.

“There is a lot of stainless steel and copper out there which is not cheap,” Hunter said of the still, fermenting tanks and piping.


The friends faced a big obstacle, however, in that the city’s zoning ordinance formerly did not allow for a craft distiller or brewer with a tasting room, where consumers and retailers could be educated on the product.

Hunter said the stars aligned when Far From the Tree Cider, now open at 108 Jackson St., sought to open a tap room for its hard cider, as did Notch Brewing, which is in the process of locating a brewery in Salem. Notch plans to open its brewery and tap room sometime in 2016.

“It was kind of a fortuitous event. We all kind of joined forces and were able to get the zoning ordinance changed,” Hunter said.

Deacon Giles now has a farmers-class distiller license, which allows patrons to taste and purchase.

“It’s probably the single biggest piece of our marketing,” Hunter said of the tasting room.

They started with a rum (Liquid Damnation Rum) made of 100-percent blackstrap and fancy molasses, and a gin (Original Gin), an Old Tom-style gin with an all-malt base infused with juniper berry, coriander, orange and lemon peel, Angelica root, rose hip and mace.

Rum has a long history in New England and Salem, Hunter said. In the 1830s, there were as many as seven distilleries within the city limits. By the 1890s, they were all gone, done in by temperance and prohibition.

“The rum history here is vital, and we are trying to recreate that,” Hunter said.

So far, so good for Deacon Giles. They did their first mash for the gin on Oct. 19. They finished packing cases on Oct. 29 and made their first 12 deliveries the next day to five liquor stores and seven on-premise accounts, winding up on the drink menus of some popular Salem eateries, such as Finz.

“Right now, we are in the midst of getting inventory in-house to just supply the accounts we can take on,” Hunter said.

The neighbors, no doubt, will be offering up prayers the distillery won’t be taking on any demons to help fill those orders.