By Rick Riozza

As we often do in this column, the wine bar is cleared and we taste and discuss a liquor of merit.  I’ve indulged you readers with coverage of my favorite libations such as gin, tequila and Cognac, as I had my share of the stuff.

But this time around, we’re covering a distillate that I’ve probably had the least experience in enjoying:  Rum—in particular Haitian Rhum.  I really do not have much of a “sweet tooth” when it comes to liquor and cocktails, but I’ve recently sampled through the rum portfolio of Rhum Barbancourt, and I’ve been won over with the tasty complex flavors of the rum where sugar or sweetness is not the focus.

Most Caribbean rum is made from molasses—with molasses itself being a residue from the sugar-refining process.  The grand specificity of Rhum Barbancourt comes from its use of sugar cane juice. Sugar cane juice has a much richer flavor—a wider diversity of aromas—than molasses, and that difference in the raw material distilled translates in the taste of the distilled rum.


Rhum Barbancourt is made directly from 100% pure sugar cane juice, pressed from hand-cut and locally grown cane. To ensure freshness, sugar canes harvested from a 600-hectare plantation are delivered directly to the distillery. The canes are immediately crushed to obtain sugar cane juice, called vesou. This juice is then fermented with an exclusive Barbancourt yeast that brings out fruity aromas. After distillation, the resulting rum is then left to age in oak barrels.

Ah-ah! Now I know why I like this Haitain Rhum! This is the same way of Cognac production methods:  Double distillation and then aged in French oak barrels from Limousin.

In 1862, Dupré Barbancourt, a native of the Charente (Cognac) region in France, put the finishing touches of the pure juice recipe for rum that bears his name. Using the double distillation method usually reserved for the very finest cognacs, he discovered a rum of incomparable quality that has always received the highest international distinctions.

A quick history account: When Columbus landed in the island of Hispaniola on December 6, 1492, he found a kingdom ruled by a cacique, or Taino Indian chief.  On Columbus’ second trip there, he brought sugar cane which later became a major export along with indigo, coffee, and gold. After the French arrived and took over in the seventeenth century, Haiti was considered France’s richest colony and known as “the pearl of the Antilles.”

The Haitians revolted against the French from 1791-1804. One of the most important outcomes of this revolution was that it forced Napoleon Bonaparte to sell Louisiana to the U.S. in 1803, resulting in a major territorial expansion of the United States. In 1804, Haiti was the first independent Black republic in the Western Hemisphere. Haitian Creole and French is their language.  Rhum is the French spelling of rum, and it’s pronounced the same the world over.

So as with Cognac, Rhum Barbancourt also “ages” the distillate for longer periods than the other rum regions of the Caribbean.  Rhum Barbancourt’s portfolio includes an unaged white, 4-year-old, and 8-year-old, among others. But the oldest rum in their stable is this bottle, the 15-year-old Estate Reserve.

Rhum Barbancourt 15 Year Estate Reserve ($55). This rum could well become one of your favorite sippers from now on.  The aromas open with sandalwood, then as the glass opens up, we find elements of candied pineapple and saltwater taffy before light notes of leather and caramel come in to play.  On the palate, and in a fresh dry sense, butterscotch, peach candies, and orange peel flavors meld with a bit of clove.  It’s a very creamy liquor but is still drier than traditional Caribbean rum.  At 43% alcohol, It is absolutely delicious!

Rhum Barbancourt 8 Year 5 Star Reserve Speciale ($24) Aromas of coconut husks, butterscotch and light citrus notes. The palate is surprisingly elegant and complex featuring notes of caramel, dark chocolate, vanilla, citrus and baking spice—hint of ginger and white pepper. The finish is long and dry and smooth with a mix of sweetness with a hint of nuttiness, slightly reminiscent of a cognac or brandy. It has a nice oaky dry layer.  It’s both a sipper and a great rum for any of your cocktail needs, also at 43% alcohol.

Speaking of cocktails, trending bartender Laura Pica has come up with the “Before Sunrise”, where she utilizes the Rhum Barbancourt 4 year Rhum.  We made it with the 8 year old stuff and it was delish!

  • 1.5 ounces of Rhum Barbancourt
  • 2 ounces fresh rosemary-peach juice with fresh cinnamon
  • Half ounce fresh lime
  • Half ounce homemade peach jam
  • 3 dashes of warm spice bitters
  • AA coarse sugar rim

Cul Sec!  Cheers!