Apr 102016
 

Barbancourt Reserve Speciale

Rumaniacs Review 021 | 0421

Here’s a pretty decent, if somewhat anorexic, rhum from Haiti, courtesy of the House of Barbancourt.  The name “Réserve Spéciale” is still in use, and refers these days to an eight year old, but so scarce is any kind of information on the sample I was provided (even getting a photo was problematic hence the lousy quality of the one you see here), that for me to say it was an eight year old back then is an educated guess, not a fact.  Still, info or no info, a sample was sent, and there it is and here we are. It’s not something a rum junkie can ignore.

Colour – dark amber

Strength – 43%

Nose – Thin and yet still very aromatic.  Lots going on here – light cherries, and dark prunes, fried bananas and french bread covered over with green grape skins and dark chocolate (I know how that sounds, believe me) – the way it all comes together is tailor made for leisurely sniffing.

Palate – For a rum this dark, it’s surprisingly delicate…y’know, like a sumo wrestler wearing heels.  Heated with a sly citrus sharpness to leaven it all. More plums and ripe cherries carrying over from the nose, to which is added grapes, black olives, vanilla, cinnamon and some cardamon as it develops.  With water not much changes, some vague grassier hints round things out.  It’s actually quite a smooth product, once it settles down. Still lacks real body though.

Finish – Short and easy, warm and fragrant.  Florals, lemon zest, grass, vague but unidentifiable fruitiness plus some vanilla. A bit too thin, really, but I concede that what it does present is nothing to sneeze at.

Thoughts – Nothing much to say.  A decent agricole all the way through.  The modern Barbancourt series are not very far away from this, which says a lot about the overall consistency of the line through the decades.

(83/100)

Opinion

Sometimes even a short series of notes like those above illustrate larger points about the rum universe.

What is becoming clearer as I do these reviews, is that while independent bottlers take care to keep track of and list every one of their offerings — including from which country, from what year and at what strength — more commercial “country-based” makers (like DDL, Barbancourt, Mount Gay, Angostura, St. Lucia Distilleries, Flor de Cana, the Travellers, the Jamaicans etc etc) who keep a single line of rums stable for many years, never really bother.  That’s why Carl Kanto could mourn the passing of older DDL rums marketed in the pre-El-Dorado days, of which no trace, no list, no photograph, no profile, and no sample remains.

I believe that in these cloud based internet days, every rum maker owes it to the generations to come to preserve a complete set of every rum they have ever made, are making, and will make — in writing and in photographs, and maybe with a few cases squirrelled away in a vault someplace.  It may seem like a waste now, but in fifty years it would be a treasure beyond price.  And as we all get older ourselves, haven’t we all noted that the years are passing more quickly? That fifty years will be gone in a heartbeat.

 

 

 

Jun 292015
 
Barbancourt 15

Photo courtesy of The Whisky Exchange

Rumaniacs Review 005 | 0405

The forerunner of the still excellent fifteen year old rhum made in Haiti to this day, this one was generated in the 1970s, and it’s a pretty good rhum even after a remove of so many years.  Pot still 43%, about 15,000 bottles were issued according to The Sage, while The Whisky Exchange says 20,000…doesn’t matter, they’re rare as hen’s teeth these days anyway.  I think the recipe they used then is a little different than the current iteration of the 15, but not by much.  Note also the similarity of the box to today’s edition.

Nose: Oddly thin and discombobulated. Spicy, not too much. Nuts, caramel, port infused pipe tobacco, black grapes, some zest. Gets easier as you keep at it, rewards some patience and savouring.

Palate: Light bodied yet not anorexically thin, thank God (hate those). Some beef and biceps kept under velvet sleeves – 43% is great here.  Not quite a molasses background, but some – caramel, vanilla, toffee, crushed walnuts, ice cream without enough cream. Black grapes continue, red guavas, some anise and fennel and black tea (without sugar).  A shade too thin, really – still, you can’t fault the fact that it’s delicious.

Finish: Medium short, unremarkable.  Nothing more than the aforementioned spices and toffee to report. Goes down nicely, and at least it doesn’t hate you.

Thoughts: Amazing how consistent this is in quality to the current 15 year old, which I quite liked. Still, tasted after the >25 Year Old Veronelli, you can sense the difference. Surprised this was/is a cane juice product — has elements that hearken more to molasses, but what do I know?  A pretty good all-round rhum in all times, in all worlds.

(83/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

Barbancourt 1970s 15 yr old

May 282015
 
rhum-barbancourt-reserve-veronelli-over-25-years-old-rum-003

Photo shamelessly cribbed from Lo Spirito Dei Tempi

Rumaniacs Review 003 | 0403

A craft bottling from 1977, made by Luigi Veronelli of Milan, who had visited Haiti and was so impressed with the Big B, he was granted permission to take a few barrels.  Outturn 1196 bottles, 43%.  Note the age statement…greater than 25 years.  One can only sigh with envy.

Nowadays, fresh pressed cane juice is no longer used to make Barbancourt rums, but reduced syrup; and the old Charentaise still is gone, replaced by more modern apparatus.  This allows greater volume, but perhaps some of the older taste profile has been sacrificed, as this rum implies.

Nose: Rich, very warm, not quite spicy. Nuts, caramel, coconut shavings, black grapes.  Faint mint and hot tea. Excellent stuff.  Invites further nosing almost as of right.

Palate: Medium to light body.  Remarkably smooth, wish it had been a bit less thin. Fruity, of the just ripening, sharp kind – grapes, apples just sliced…wtf?  Let me check that again. Mmm…yes, it was as I said.  Also: the watery clarity of peeled cucumbers (no, really); more tea, some smoke, faint vanilla, toffee, nougat and caramel, but also well melded with more “standard” agricole flavours of grass, green tea.  Really goes down well.  Perhaps I was wrong, though…let’s try another sip.  Nope, still good.

Finish: Not too long.  Some last smoky, aromatic tobacco notes, a bit of dried fruit. You can help it along with another taste. Perhaps three. A rum this old and this rare deserves to be generously sampled.  All in the name of science, of course.

Thoughts: there’s a subterranean voluptuousness, a complex richness coiling inside this rum that I cannot recall from the current stable of Barbancourt’s products, even the 15 year old. Maybe it was the 2010 earthquake that destroyed much of Barbancourt’s old stock; maybe it’s the still; maybe it’s just the history. Whatever the case, I understand why so many Europeans on a grail quest for it.

(89/100)

  • 90 + : exceptional
  • 85-89: excellent, special rums
  • 80-84: quite good
  • 75-79: better than average
  • 70-74: below average
  • < 70 : Avoid

ru0267e1160-22_IM167043

D3S_1676

Mar 262013
 

A rum for those who like cognacs and somewhat lighter fare without the heaviness or sweeter full-bodied physiques of the darker variants. Rewards some patience, because it does not reveal its secrets lightly, and will require you to go back to it a few times before appreciating it for what it is:  a drink both subtle and supple, spicy and sere. Nice.

First posted 20th January 2012 on Liquorature. 

(#100. 82/100)

***

These days, if Haiti is known for anything, it’s for its poverty, political strife (and the 2010 earthquake). Rums are almost an afterthought, yet Barbancourt is there, and has been since 1862, and they keep churning out the product, very well known among the cognoscenti. Their double distillation method produces cognac-like rums many consider among the finest in the world (not surprising since old Dupré Barbancourt hailed from the region in France where such spirits mostly originate)

I had previously tried their Barbancourt 8 year old which I found an intriguing essay in the craft, but lacking some of the richness and smoothness I preferred, and listing slightly more towards cognac than a rum (and I’m a middling proponent of cognac). Others of course, love the thing, and esteem it even above the fifteen year old, which was initially reserved just for the founder’s family and entered commercial production in the 1960s.

The 15 is packaged in much the same bottle as the 8, but with a spiffier label. Same cheap tinfoil cap, however: at least it closed tightly. Like the 8, it originated in sugar cane juice, so it was an agricole, not a molasses-based product, even if it lacks the official French AOC designation associated with a terroire which would perhaps grant it more street cred among the snooty.

By the measure of these characteristics, there were certain things I would have expected of this rum: a medium to light body, a less-sweet-than-average palate, and a certain driness to the taste, as well as a complex mingling of tastes and a lingering finish with a bit of claws at the back end. And indeed, the lead-in started well off to confirming this: a spicy nose, somewhat light and flowery, lacking the dark power of, oh, the Pusser’s 15. Some fresh fruit mingled with pecans, a florists shop and (I swear this is true), freshly done laundry.

As I suspected the body was not entirely up my street (but then, my street is in Tiger Bay in GT and leads into Buxton, not downtown Port-au-Prince, so draw your own conclusions there): a solid medium corpus – in that sense I would compare it against the Clemente Tres Vieux from Martinique, or perhaps one of the middle ranking Colombian Juan Santos rums I so admired. Neither was the palate sweet, or even middling sweet: it was quite sere, peppery almost, and once again there are subtler hints than usual of the flavours we seek, like grapefruit, burnt sugar, caramel, and baking spices.

The lady on the label of the bottle has her own history…

The fade in particular was worthy of mention: long and lasting, releasing notes of citrus, some tannins (not surprising given the lengthy ageing in limousin oak vats) and softer scents like maybe hot damp earth after a rain. Yes, I have to be honest, the thing gave me a bitch slap or two going down, but like the deep carving warmth of a good tea, I liked it for all that

In fine, I was not entirely won over by the Barbancourt 15 year old (no need to call for the headsman’s axe, I’m aware that I’m in a minority), but concede without hesitation that it was not a kick-down-the-door bandit out to relieve you of your valuables…more a sly, subtle thief in the night, with complexities of character that gradually grew on me. And l wasn’t alone – if the measure of the success of a rum is the way the Liquorature crowd lowers the level of any bottle I presented, then this one was close runner up to the Ron Abuelo 12 by being damaged to the tune of over two thirds. That’s a real recommendation by any standard, given that it was done by a bunch of low class whisky lovers. A cognac lover I’m not, and an unabashed Barbancourt fan neither – this rum, however, demanded I pay them a lot more attention.

Mar 242013
 

First posted 19 June 2010 on Liquorature. #025

***

Barbancourt.  Just roll that on your tongue and you can almost hear the whisper of words both foreign and exotic – Barbarossa the Ottoman privateer; the Barbary Coast; Hispaniola; bucaneer…the name reeks deliciously of of piracy.  And aside from peg legs, parrots, cutlasses, the Spanish Main and caravels of looted or buried treasure, is there any product more identified with the term than that of their most famous drink?

I have to admit that it was the romance of the name and origin – and some honest curiosity –  that made me pick this one.  Haitian rums are not made from molasses but rather directly from cane juice, and the sojourns of the Club have not made it to this island nation yet; nor have I seen that many examples of the brand here in Calgary. Like other French islands (Martinique for one), what we have here is a rhum agricole, and I was fascinated as to the difference in the end product. There are more expensive examples from Barbancourt out there (the 15-year estate offering for a start), but this seemed like a reasonable compromise.

Agricole rhums are lighter-coloured than the average, as a result of being made from cane juice as I noted above, and tend towards dark yellow. This Special Reserve originated from a double pot-still distillation, and was then aged for eight years in Limousin white-oak barrels imported from France (they once held cognac, I believe). Press releases and distributor’s notes suggest Barbancourt is among the most widely distributed and available rums from the Caribbean, but I chose to dispute that: the Law of Mediocrity (which is not what you think it means) suggests that if, in  the first store you enter in some average spot on the globe, they stock this stuff, then you’re likely to find it anywhere.  Since I’ve spotted this rum once in many years (last week)…well, you get the point. I’ll grant you however, that it’s probably one of the better known Haitian exports.

I liked the light colour (hidden from casual view by a darkened bottle of no distinguishing presentation) and a swirl in the glass revealed shy legs that took their own time draining back into the glass.  The nose surprised me because the spirit surged to the fore immediately: it was, quite honestly, a bit overwhelming, even medicinal.  But as that faded, I managed to pick out notes of butterscotch, toffee, brown sugar and…honey. Nice.

The taste was tricky because the more powerful components took charge so quickly.  You have no problems picking up vanilla, the toffee, caramel and burnt sugar, but subtler flavours hide behind the skirts of the more aggressive ones – a bit of nuttiness flirted around with a faint citrus I could not identify (I always have a problem figuring out whether it’s lime, lemon, orange, tangerine or some other Vitamin C bearer I’m tasting). The burn on the backstretch is not strong, but definitely present, a phenomenon I attribute to the prescence of oak in the maturation process. I wish there had been less spirit sting, to be honest, because it marred what to me had been a spiffing job up to that stage.  But really, it’s a minor point, because overall, I thought it was a decent sipper: not top of the line, but a very pleasant sundowner.

The body of the rhum is not as rich as I might like, and in taste it hints at the heritage of Dupre Barbancourt who hailed from the cognac producing region of France and formed the company in 1862.  So it’s perhaps a bit schizophrenic in that it’s a medium- to light-bodied paler rum, slightly dry, and not as sweet as might be expected – hardly the profile of a rum as I’ve been used to defining the term: more like a cognac, really. And here, my plebian instincts overwhelm my own snootiness, because with that kind of flavour and texture, the spaces of the drink are very nicely filled by a coke, and in doing that, a masterful little mixed drink is created which I have no hesitation whatsoever in recommending to any who ask.

As a point of interest: Haiti is unique as a nation because it is where the only successful slave revolt in the West Indies took place, under Toussaint L’Ouverture, at the turn of the 18th century. Sadly, it is now the poorest nation in the western hemisphere, and successive dictatorships have left the place in shambles. High marks go to the businesses that manage to produce this excellent product…one can only speculate under what conditions they do so, or with what methods.

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