Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Rhum Barbancourt: The Spirit of Haiti

When Christopher Columbus landed in the New World in 1492, he arrived on the sandy shores of Môle Saint Nicolas in present day Haiti. He named the island Hispaniola, and for the next 200 years, the entire island remained under Spanish rule. During this time, the Spanish settlers introduced a variety of plants and animals to the region, but the one newly imported species that had the most influence was sugar cane. It was cultivated to produce sugar for the wealthy, and as the demand for this commodity grew, the European settlers throughout the region fought for control of the islands. In 1640, the French conquered the nearby island of Tortuga, and from there, waged war on Hispaniola. By 1695 the Spanish were defeated and conceded the western half of the island to the French in the Treaty of Ryswick.

When settlers originally traveled to the region, they brought with them the knowledge of distillation. This technology spread rapidly throughout the Caribbean islands, and by the time the French acquired their newest colony from the Spanish, the distilled sugar cane spirit they called "rhum" was in high demand. On their new colony, which they named Saint-Domingue, the French built large sugar cane plantations to create both sugar and rhum. However, the demand for these products kept growing and they needed more and more field workers to achieve the results they desired. The island natives were forced to work on these plantations, along with Africans that had been "purchased" with European goods and transported across the Atlantic Ocean. This slavery continued until the Haitian Revolution of 1791 - the only successful slave revolt in world history and the defining moment of the abolition of slavery. Born from this revolt was the free and independent state of Haiti.

At this time, many of the mid and lower class French settlers who had not owned plantations or slaves remained in the country and lived in relative harmony with the liberated Haitian people. One of these colonists was Dupré Barbancourt, a native of the Charente region in France. In 1862, he decided to experiment and subjected the fermented sugar cane to the double distillation method usually reserved for the finest cognacs. The rhum produced was of exceptional quality, and although it was created in very limited quantities, it gained immense popularity in the Caribbean, as well as France. 

The Barbancourt Charentaise Still
Over the years, Rhum Barbancourt has been passed down through the generations, but it was Dupré Barbancourt's great nephew, Jean Gardère who truly modernized the business. In 1949, he relocated the distillery from Port au Prince to the heart of the sugar cane fields of Domaine Barbancourt. By 1952, the distillery began to produce rhum exclusively from sugar cane grown on their own land, which allowed the brand to grow from a small cottage industry to an international exporter. By the mid-1960s, Barbancourt had greatly expanded and was able to release their finest product - the 15 year old Reserve du Domaine.

La Société du Rhum Barbancourt is one of the oldest Haitian companies, and still produces their rhum in accordance with the original recipe by Dupré Barbancourt. Although the company has several releases, two of the finest rhums produced are the "Réserve Spéciale" and the "Estate Reserve". 

"Réserve Spéciale"
Rhum Barbancourt "Réserve Spéciale" has been aged in Limousin oak for 8 years, lending a lovely golden hue and enticing aromas of vanilla and pepper. The palate is powerful, smooth and well balanced, with complex flavors of cooked fruit, citrus fruit and exotic spice. The limited edition Rhum Barbancourt "Estate Reserve" has been aged for 15 years and is of even higher quality. The nose offers lively aromas of candied citrus fruit and spice, while the palate displays intense flavors of cooked pear, citrus fruit, cinnamon and pepper. The devastating earthquake Haiti endured in 2010 damaged the distillery and ruined a large amount of the aging rhum, but the newest release of the "Estate Reserve" has recently arrived at DrinkUpNY, so order today to reserve a bottle of this exceptional spirit.

Cheers from DrinkUpNY!

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