On the outskirts of Port-au-Prince, Haiti, Rhum Barbancourt is an oasis of rhum (French for rum) production.
Flowers burst forth from the bushes lining the always between the gray stone storehouses and the scent of sugar wafts through the air, making the blue skies seem even more saturated. In this beatific setting, one is hard-pressed to imagine that the distillery faced an uncertain future after the 2010 earthquake.
Flourishing once again, Barbancourt and its rebirth are a testament to the brand’s resilience and its importance in the rum universe.
The 7.0 Haitian quake was catastrophic for the country’s infrastructure, not to mention crippling to the emotional, physical, and economic health of the nation. From the bottling room to the aging facilities, Barbancourt didn’t escape unscathed.
While the facilities themselves withstood the quake, the distillery lost bottles, barrels, and even huge cats of rhum, some having already aged 15 years. In a business where age can define a spirit’s character, the loss was devastating.
The distillery shut down completely for three months, and no one knew for certain when it might resume. Production slowly powered up and today, five years later, the distillery flourishes again and continues to maintain its position in the rhum world as a distinctive spirit.
Despite the world class reputation, the facility still runs on a languid, countrified rhythm. Old, sturdy trucks pulling a series of huge wood-slatted wagons dump the cane in the yard where it is scooped up in the claws of an aging yellow crane.
A single worker ensures that all the cane rods find their way into the press; another supervises the furnace and three others ensure that the pressing machine keeps cranking out juice.
Once you find your way to the buildings where the rhum is aged, you experience a somewhat grander aesthetic. The stone interiors are stocked with barrels floor to ceiling or chock-a-block with 20-foot tall aging vats. The scent of cold minerality from the stone, warm oak from the wood, and sweetness from the cane mingle in a triptych if rhum aromas. For a rhum lover, this is truly paradise.
Barbancourt has the distinction of carrying the Authentic Caribbean Rum Marque, a sign of provenance created by WIRSPA (the West Indian Rum and Spirits Producers Association). With its rum education program and the rum marque, WIRSPA hopes to promote Caribbean rum as unique within the rum category. Barbancourt is the only rum from Haiti.
As one of the more visible and proud symbols of Haitian culture, Barbancourt has brought prestige to the island nation as well as providing an economic base for thousands of workers both directly and indirectly. Was there ever a thought of not rebuilding. Never. As the general director and fourth generation family member Thierry Gardère says,
“We felt obliged to keep going. Barbancourt is an icon.”