Distillations Spirits Vol. 26 No. 03

Rhum Barbancourt: Haiti’s Historic Spirit Looks to the Future

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Founded in 1862 by Dupré Barbancourt, Rhum Barbancourt is Haiti’s, and one of the world’s premier rums. Drawing inspiration from the French brandy of his native region of Cognac, Barbancourt set out to make a rum – or in this case, Rhum, which is made from fresh-pressed sugar cane juice instead of molasses, which was the norm on neighboring islands – in the same style. His philosophy: that fermenting and distilling fresh juice captured more of the subtleties that sugarcane offers in the end product, leaving a distillate with more complexity, flavor, and freshness. Aging in French oak gave his rhums added nuances & smoothness.  160 years later, Rhum Barbancourt is considered one of the world’s finest rums and is Haiti’s largest export.

Sugarcane field in Haiti (photo courtesy of Rhum Barbancourt)

Registered as a national icon in Haiti’s Cultural Heritage by Haiti’s Minister of Culture and Communications in 2021, the Société du Rhum Barbancourt is still owned by Barbancourt’s descendants, the Gardère Family.  Sante’s Spirits Editor, David Ransom, spoke with Fifth Generation family member and head of Rhum Barbancourt, Delphine Gardère, about her family’s rhums and plans for the future.

Société du Rhum Barbancourt’s Delphine Gardère (photo courtesy of Raoul Beltrame)

DR: What sets Rhum Barbancourt apart from other French-Caribbean Rhum producers?

DG: Being in Haiti, which lies outside the French Rhum Agricole AOC due to the fact that we are an independent country and not one of the French colonies, we do not have to adhere to the strict regulations set forth by the AOC system when making our rhums. This gives us more autonomy to be creative in our distillation, aging, and blending, which we feel gives our Rhum its uniquely Haitian character.

DR: Tell us about the distillation and aging? How is this different from the French AOC Rhum Agricole?

DG: Rhum Barbancourt, unlike its French AOC-regulated counterparts, goes through double distillation. The French AOC rhums are only allowed to be distilled once. Our rhums, excluding the White, are then aged in Limousin French oak barrels for their allotted timeframe.

DR: Has the Barbancourt recipe and distillation changed over the years?

DG: The original recipe called for distilling through copper pot stills, but we changed this in the 1990s to distill through column stills. We have current plans in the works to do copper pot still distillation in the future, maybe for a product extension.

The Rhum Barbancourt Distillery in Haiti (photo: Raoul Beltrame)

DR: How does using a column still differ from distilling through a pot still in the resulting flavor profile?

DG: With a column still I think you get more floral and pepper notes in the nose and the palate is more subdued but with more freshness and punchiness. Also, the rhum is smoother and the finish has more length of flavor due to the double distillation.

DR: You took over as CEO in 2020. What plans, if any, do you have as Rhum Barbancourt looks to the future?

DG: The core DNA of our brand is really aged rum, and we, of course, will continue to focus on this. If we can bring product extensions to market while still honoring our core of cognac-style aged rhums and not becoming too commercial, I think that’s a good vision for the near future. I also hope to market our company more on a global scale, and in doing so, bring attention to Haiti for the right reasons. As one of the most well-known Haitian products, we have an opportunity to bring global businesses to our country through Socially Responsible Investments (SRI).

Rhum Barbancourt. (photo courtesy of Rhum Barbancourt)

The Société du Rhum Barbancourt currently ships the following styles of its Rhum Agricole to the U.S market:

Rhum Barbancourt White. Made from pure sugar cane juice and copper column distilled to 43%ABV or 86 Proof, this rhum is perfectly clear and shows floral notes and citrus on the nose that give way to hints of spice, peppercorns and eucalyptus on the palate. A perfect rum for cocktails and mixed drinks, it is a lively spirit with a distinct flavor profile. $18.

Rhum Barbancourt 3 Star. Distilled from sugar cane juice and aged for 4 years in oak casks, the 3 Star Rhum is part of the original collection developed by Dupré Barbancourt in the 1860s. Light gold in color and presenting aromas of lime and citrus on the nose. The palate shows flavors of spice, fresh cane juice and light wood notes reminiscent of it’s time in the barrel. A rhum to be used in cocktails or sipped on the rocks. 43% ABV/86 Proof. $23.

Rhum Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 5 Star. Another original recipe of Dupré Barbancourt, the 5 Star was originally named La Goutte d’Or or The Golden Drop. For this rhum, pure sugar cane juice is distilled and aged 8 years in cask before bottling. Copper-gold in color, the 5 star presents notes of pepper and cinnamon on the nose, leading to peppercorn and fruit on the palate. A rich & balanced rhum with a long finish, the 5 star is meant for sipping neat or on the rocks. 43% ABV/86 Proof. $30.

Rhum Barbancourt Estate Reserve 15 Years. Originally made only for the Gardere family’s enjoyment, the Estate Reserve 15YO has been in limited release to the public since 1960. Pure sugar can juice is distilled and the resulting rhum is then aged in French oak barrels for 15 years. The nose presents notes of vanilla and dried fruit. Rich and luxurious on the palate the 15YO shows layers of soft spice and dried fruit, with a sweet and complex finish. This is a rhum to be enjoyed neat in the same way one would enjoy a fine cognac or Armagnac. 43% ABV/86 Proof. $55.

Rhum Barbancourt Featured Recipe:

Blood Orange Rum Punch made with Rhum Barbancourt 4 Year

2 oz Barbancourt 4 Year Rhum

1.5 oz Pineapple Juice

1 oz Blood Orange

½ oz Lime Juice

Mix all ingredients into a shaker and strain into a highball glass over ice and garnish with a pineapple slice.

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