A Gentleman and a Distiller

Personal circumstances have led me to neglect Rumpundit, but Thierry’s death spurs me back to business and I will do more from now on.

I last met Thierry in New York at the Financial Times “Business of Rum” supplement launch. He was there, not because he was a huge financial player, but because all of us involved respected the quality that Barbancourt represented, not least because of the adversity of conditions in Haiti.

At the conference, I reminded him of what he had told me years before – and he had forgotten. Smiling, he told me in his soft French accent, “Ian, you know, Bacardi are very clevèr.”

“How?” I asked.

“If you look at zeir advertizements, they always want you to drink zeir rum with something else!” he said.

I have to say recent Bacardi products  from Facundo mean it is no longer true but it was a wonderful put down – that could be said of many other mass sale rums!




The man behind Haiti’s best-known export, Barbancourt rum, dead at 65

Barbancourt 150!

When pushed to choose, I usually call Barbancourt 15 my favorite!


Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt Celebrates 150 Years With Special Edition

December 24, 2012 | 2:10 pm | Print

Above: the Cuvee 150 Ans

By the Caribbean Journal staff

Haiti’s Rhum Barbancourt is launching a new special edition to mark the company’s 150th anniversary, the company announced.

Barbancourt’s Cuvee 150 Ans is a special blend in an art deco bottle developed in partnership with international designer Mickael Kramer.

Each crystal bottle will have its own unique number and a sandblasted Rhum Barbancourt anniversary logo.

While it will initially be available only in Haiti, the company said it would soon be expanding its availability to the United States and Canada.

Barbancourt has been produced continuously since 1862 (coincidentally, the same year that Don Facundo Bacardi started operations in Cuba), with the exception of a period following Haiti’s earthquake in 2010.

Vive Barbancourt!


They’ll drink to that: Haitian rum maker endures

Rhum Barbancourt, Haiti’s signature rum, is bouncing back from quake damage and will bottle and ship soon.



PORT-AU-PRINCE — It has survived 19 coups, military rule, hurricanes, and even a three-year embargo.

But in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti’s best-known export and one of its oldest businesses, Rhum Barbancourt, suffered a $4 million setback. Amber bottles and white oak vats — some containing rum as old as 15 years — crashed to the distillery floor.

It could take up to four years for production of one of the world’s top rums to return to its pre-quake capacity, though the owner is hoping to resume bottling and shipping by late April or early May — an emphatic sigh of relief, to be certain, to rum connoisseurs the world over.

“We are ready to recover,” said Thierry Gardère, general director and fourth generation in the family to run the business.

As distillery workers make repairs to pipes, vats, and the aging room, Barbancourt soldiers on, yielding a cognac-like spirit that fans say maintains its cachet in spite of Haiti’s challenges. The rum is savored among niche drinkers in large part because it’s made with hand-cut, locally grown sugar cane juice and not molasses.

“It’s pretty spectacular that Barbancourt is still here, is still great, and is still setting a high standard that other companies have to match — especially at their luxury level,” said Robert Burr, the Coral Gables publisher of the Gifted Rums Guide.

In the earthquake that claimed at least 200,000 lives and left more than a million homeless, not even the seemingly bullet-proof Barbancourt eluded damage. Heavily hit was Barbancourt’s aging room where 30 percent of the vats were banged up.

The company also lost two employees, who died when their homes flattened. More than 25 percent of the employees saw their homes collapse, including Gardère’s near the quake-destroyed Hotel Montana. Some homeless employees camped in a nearby soccer field along with 300 others.

“It was an interruption but not a devastating interruption,” said Jim Nikola, senior vice president for Crillon Importers, a New Jersey company that ships Barbancourt. “I don’t think the consumer in the North American market will even know there was an interruption.”

The company sells about $12 million a year, Gardère said — modest compared to Bacardi, which earned $805 million in the 2009 fiscal year. The Haitian rum’s biggest overseas market is the United States.

Despite the relatively small sales, Barbancourt has its circle of devoted fans, some of whom called for Haiti supporters to purchase the rum as a gesture of post-quake solidarity. The brand even has its own Facebook page.

“It’s really popular with people who care what their drink tastes like,” Nikola said.

Before the quake suspended exporting, Burr and other Barbancourt aficionados were easy to spot at Miami International and John F. Kennedy airports. The travelers carried suitcase-like boxes that contained several rum bottles. Haiti was marked on the side in bold letters.

The company was founded in 1862 by Dupré Barbancourt, a Frenchman who moved to Haiti from the cognac-producing region of Charente. That year, the United States recognized Haiti, an international pariah because of the slave revolt that secured independence from France in 1804.

The sugar cane-carrying woman on the beige label is something of a mystery. One story holds that she is a “Vodou priestess;” another is that she’s an agricultural deity. But Gardère said she is Barbancourt’s first wife, a blond actress from France. Gardère said he doesn’t know her name.

Barbancourt later remarried Nathalie Gardère but the couple didn’t have children. After Barbancourt died, Nathalie Gardère took over and a nephew, Paul, after that.

Under the Duvalier era in the 1950s, a rival company started marketing flavored rums under the name Jane Barbancourt. The old Barbancourt family won the trademark dispute, though Gardère’s father and his attorney were jailed for four hours because they declined to pay the judge a bribe. François “Papa Doc” Duvalier released them.

“It was a political thing more than anything else, against my father,” Gardère said.

During the 1991-94 embargo that sought to pressure military leaders to resign after they ousted President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in a 1991 coup, the distillery struggled to stay afloat.

“It was very tough for us to come back,” Gardère said. “It took us four years to reach the same level before” the sanctions.

Today, the rum is an unequivocal source of Haitian pride — revered in the country and outside because of its smooth cognac-like flavor. And it is like Haiti itself: a magnet for adversity as much as it is a symbol of survival.

“I enjoy Barbancourt so much because of the feeling I get,” said Patrick Chery, 29, a computer technician in Port-au-Prince. “It feels like paradise.”

Barbancourt has received heaps of praise through the years — some of its medals displayed on the label. Just in December, a newspaper tasting panel sampled 20 bottles of rum that had been aged for at least seven years. Barbancourt’s 15-year-old Estate Réserve came out on top, beating Bacardi.

“Balanced and elegant, with complex, lingering aromas and flavors of flowers, fruit, spices and beeswax,” the reviewers wrote.

There are three Rhum Barbancourt dark rums: the three star, aged four years; the five star Reserve Special, aged eight; and Estate Réserve, aged 15 years. The distillery also produces a white rum.

That the drink is enjoyed by everybody from the French- and English-speaking business leader in the hills above Port-au-Prince to the Vodou priest in the temples in the crowded suburb of Carrefour underscores its ability to transcend class lines in a class-obsessed Haiti.

On a recent Monday, Gardère led a brief tour of the distillery 10 miles north of Port-au-Prince. Machines jettisoned steam. Creamy cane juice spewed from a spigot. Fifty-gallon oak barrels — recycled because they retain rum — were set aside in need of repairs.

“We still have a lot of damage in the bottling room, in the aging room,” said Gardère, dressed in pressed white pants and a light blue Oxford. “A lot of barrels fell down or were tilted.”

Shipping is expected to resume this month. Travelers can now purchase the rum at the Port-au-Prince airport — though there’s a three-bottle limit — after an almost three-month hiatus.

Having worked at Barbancourt for 25 years, the 57-year-old Gardère realizes he must ponder the question of succession. His only daughter, Delphine Nathalie Gardère, an Emory University alumna studying marketing in London, has expressed interest in joining the family business.

“We never compromised the quality of our rum,” said Delphine, 36. “We just try to maintain our standards across time while still adapting to the situation.”

Haiti, Rhum Barbancourt

In the face of the tragedy that afflicted Haiti, it might seem frivolous to worry about a distillery, but Haiti’s iconic Rhum Barbancourt is one of the few indigenous export industries that has survived over the years and it is crucial to redevelopment.

I spoke to Mike Yarema of Crillon Importers in New Jersey, and although information is skimpy, he reports that that the damage to the distillery is not as severe as first thought, and most of the workers seem to be OK.

I have visited the distillery and it is a fair distance to the North of Port Au Prince, past the airport so it was away from the epicentre and it is also on flat terrain.

With the damage to the port and logistics it will of course be some time before the rhummery starts exporting again, but Mike has offered me some bottles which I will be auctioning at a forthcoming fundraiser. Details will be posted here.


In fact, since I missed it, here is the announcement of renewal of the contract between Barbancourt and Crillon

Jim Nikola
Sr. VP Marketing
201.268.8878 (x12)

Crillon Importers and Societe du Rhum Barbancourt Renew Contract
New long term deal maintains distribution of the Rhum Barbancourt brands in North America

New York – Dec 18th, 2009- Crillon Importers and Societe du Rhum Barbancourt are proud to announce a new long-term agreement that will keep the Rhum Barbancourt family of brands within Crillon’s portfolio. Under the new contract, Crillon Importers will continue its role as the sole North American importer and marketer of the one-of-a-kind rum imported from Haiti, made directly from the juice of pure sugar cane.

Crillon Importers Chairman and CEO Michel Roux, the man behind the marketing success of top brands such as Absolut, Grand Marnier, Bombay Sapphire and Stolichnaya, praised Rhum Barbancourt as a rising star among Crillon’s collection of spirits. “Rhum Barbancourt is a powerful brand with unbelievable potential,” said Roux. “We’re excited to continue our partnership with Rhum Barbancourt because it will undoubtedly result in the continued growth of the brand and ultimately develop into one the premier spirits in the marketplace.”

Societe du Rhum Barbancourt Executive Director and brand owner Thierry Gardere also noted both the established success and long term potential of Rhum Barbancourt. “We’re happy with the success we’ve seen so far, our business has virtually doubled in size” said Gardere. “Witnessing Michel Roux’s dynamic brand-building capabilities first-hand also makes us extremely optimistic about the future of Rhum Barbancourt.”

Founded in 1862 by the Gardere family, The Rhum Barbancourt distillery in Haiti employs cognac making methods to rum production. So what makes Rhum Barbancourt so superior? Rather than using molasses, Rhum Barbancourt is made directly from locally grown sugar cane. The 100% pure sugar cane juice, pressed from hand cut cane, is distilled twice in copper pot stills. It is then barrel aged in white Limousin oak barrels imported from France. The unparalleled quality of Rhum Barbancourt is truly indicative of the superior ingredients and production process. One taste and you’ll understand why Rhum Barbancourt has been honored with awards and accolades for over a century and has emerged as the “rum of connoisseurs.” Rhum Barbancourt dark rums are available aged 15 years (Estate Reserve), 8 Years (Reserve Speciale), 4 years (3-star) and the newest flavor Pango Rhum (aged dark rhum blended with pineapple, mango and a secret Haitian spice). Rhum Barbancourt is also available in white.

To learn more about Rhum Barbancourt visit www.barbancourt.net

About Crillon Importers
Rhum Barbancourt is imported and marketed in the U.S. by Crillon Importers, founded by legendary spirits marketer Michel Roux and located in Paramus, New Jersey. In addition to Rhum Barbancourt, the company imports a variety of high end spirit brands including Agavero, Magellan Gin, Absente, Absinthe Refined, Grande Absente, Absinthe Originale, and Absinthe Ordinaire.
This press release is brought to you by BARTENDER® Magazine, www.bartender.com