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Tis the Season: Haitian Rum

If you find yourself traveling to Haiti any time soon, here’s a great piece of advice: don’t end up at the Port-au-Prince airport for your return trip without enough cash on hand to pick up a few bottles of Rhum Barbancourt, the country’s most popular rum. (Trust us—we speak from experience.) Far from a mere souvenir, this stellar, uniquely Haitian rum has great potential to become your secret weapon in a pitcher of rum punch.

The 150-year-old company is headquartered in the Haitian capital and has been responsible for cultivating and maintaining Haiti’s most well-known brand in a country in which it’s not exactly easy to keep a successful business going. Dupré Barbancourt, having come to Haiti from France in the mid-1800s, applied his country’s knack for distillation to the most abundant resource appropriate for the task in Haiti: sugarcane. Double-distilling the fresh sugarcane juice lends more flavor to the rum, as opposed to sourcing it from molasses (a sugarcane by-product) like the method used for most other rums.

Today the rum company is run by one of Barbancourt’s descendants, and provides jobs—a scarce resource in Haiti—by sticking to traditional production methods like cutting the sugarcane by machete and hand-labeling every bottle.  In the devastating 2010 earthquake, though scores of Barbancourt workers lost their homes and many of the aged barrels were destroyed, rum production was back in full swing just four months later. That’s how important this rum is to Haitians—not only the heavy favorite among  others on the market, it’s also a quintessential part of the national economy.

Barbancourt comes in five varieties: four dark, and one white. The darker, aged varieties are more full-bodied, while the white rum is lighter. The best-tasting option is the Five Star Aged 8 Years, amber in color with hints of vanilla and oaked smokiness; like most distilled liquors, it’s best enjoyed on its own or with a single ice cube. The Three Star Aged 4 Years and the white rum are recommended for use in cocktails, although Haitians tend to drink their Barbancourt straight (whatever variety happens to be on hand). At bars in Haiti that cater to tourists, Barbancourt rum punches and rum and cokes are popular. Our recommendation: any of the varieties are delicious stirred with sour mix and a bit of sugar!

When in Haiti, you’ll find some variety of Barbancourt nearly everywhere you can order a drink, from the bustling avenues of Port-au-Prince to the local liquor outposts scattered throughout the rural countryside. Walk down the road after dark, and you’ll come upon a makeshift bar—maybe even in an old shipping container, and if you’re in the mountains, seemingly the only lights for miles—where a group of friendly neighbors have gathered to take a load off after a day’s hard work. They’ll welcome a small group of pseudo-tourists, kindly inviting in the “blan” (white folks) without a moment’s hesitation, and soon the group will be enjoying themselves with copious amounts of laughter, and perhaps lesser amounts—although only slightly—of Barbancourt.

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