On the outskirts of Port Au Prince, Haiti travelers can find the historic Maison Fondee estate and home to Rhum Barbancourt. Established in 1862 the estate is surrounded by fields of sugarcane and is comprised of an operations office, several aging warehouses, fermentation/still building, and bottling facility. The rhum is created from using fresh pressed sugar cane brought in from the surrounding fields. The sugar cane juice is fermented in an open air system then transferred to the stills. There it is twice distilled using a three column distillation system, the first run to 70% ABV, the second run to 90% ABV. The rhum is then aged in French Limousin Oak and blended to 43% ABV before bottling.
The bottle is an opaque frosted brown color with gold labels. Like all of the Rhum Barbancourt rhums the bottle is secured with a screw top. In the glass the rhum has a chestnut color with amber hues cutting through it. Swirling the glass generates a thick band that releases waves of fast moving legs before evaporating and leaving a ring of beads around the glass.
Notes of fresh cane, flowery vanilla, caramel, aging oak, dark chocolate, smoke, tanned leather, coffee, and baking spices compete and weave for dominance in this complex.
Charred oak tannins make up the heart of the flavor profile and are always constant and nuanced by the other flavors discovered when tasting the rhum. The alcohol envelops the tongue carrying flavors of black pepper and caramel. The tanned leather, dark chocolate, and spice notes from the aroma take over the mid-line along with the flavors of cooked bananas and pears. As the rhum begins to fade the oak tannins introduces dried tobacco leaf, black tea, and orange peel in a long robust finish.
Every time I have this rhum it takes me back to my visit of the distillery and my time in Haiti. This spirit is a fine example of the master blender knowing the tipping point of the aging process for his rhum. 15 years pushes the limits for most companies as the oak takes over destroying the other flavors of the rhum. I only enjoy sipping this rhum neat and do not ever dilute it with water or an ice cube, though others might enjoy it that way or in a classic cocktail.
During the 2010 earthquake the distillery lost a third of its aging stock and sustained over four million dollars in damages. By 2014 the location was completely back online thanks to the assistance of West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association as well as other private funding. At the time of this review it appears that their distribution network is reestablished and all Rhum Barbancourt products are available across the United States and through online retailers.