Arriving at the Rhum Barbancourt distillery on the outskirts of Haiti’s capital city, as I had occasion to do just a few short weeks ago, it’s hard to believe that rumors of the facility’s utter demise in the wake of the 2010 earthquake ever materialized in the first place.
To be sure, Port-au-Prince still bear scars from that fateful day, but here, ensconced from the general chaos typical of the city’s streets behind acres and acres of sugarcane, it’s as if nothing ever happened; like the overtly negative impressions of the country popularized in the mainstream media didn’t ever exist anywhere near here at all.
Like the soaring heights of L’Observatoire, the surprising SERVOTEL, Wednesday night happy hour at The Best Western Premier, romantic La Reserve, Quartier Latin, the wild weekly RAM parties at Hotel Oloffson, and a bunch of other fine places we’ve yet to share with you, the Rhum Barbancourt Distillery stands out as an oasis, of sorts, in Port-au-Prince. These are attractions and experiences on-par or better than those that you might find in any major travel destination, only they’re set within a sprawling, stressed, and at turns unsettling urban expanse slowly progressing to reach the standards set by the celebrated “oases” in their midst.
Connecting these oases and providing travelers from all over the world with a truly VIP experience is the job of trusted local tour operators like my friend Bobby Chauvet at Agence Citadelle. It was through him that I ended up tagging along with a large group of Canadian travelers visiting Rhum Barbancourt in late-February.
(Canadians have been traveling to Haiti in increasing numbers over the past few years, so why not Americans?)
Everyone spoke French except me, but the Agence Citadelle guide kindly translated the finer points of the tour to me as we went along, particularly the part about Barbancourt’s special fermentation methods that I outlined here. The beauty of the facility also spoke for itself…
Old storage warehouses like this have obviously stood the test of time and the various rough patches in Haiti’s history. Even more beauty can be found in the rhythms of the work around the distillery. The cutting, collecting, the crushing of the cane – you don’t need to speak or understand French to appreciate the 150-year of tradition of excellence embodied in Rhum Barbancourt’s method of production…
Like any great distillery, Rhum Barbancourt offers free tastings at the end of their tour. The difference here, though, is the setting: a quiet, shaded corner at the back of the distillery where samples are served elegantly in a style that’s distinctly West Indian…
Sitting here, at the heart of all things Barbancourt, and getting the chance to sip their full line of rhums, minus the uber top shelf Cuvee 150, is an experience beyond description for a true rum-lover.
Sugar cane grown for show rustled in the breeze nearby as we worked our way up the line. Pango, three-star, five-star, Reserve du Domaine… Canadian visitors new to rhum showed their surprise, laughing with me as we shared our good fortune, all of us speaking the same language.
The language of rhum.