Barbancourt 8 Year Réserve Spéciale (5 Star)

Barbancourt 8 YO-RG2

Product of:  Haiti
Aged:  8 Years
Price: $24
Alcohol: 43% ABV 
Sugar:
0-5 g/L (estimate) 
Context
: Rhum Vieux Agricole
RG Rating: 8

Tasting Notes
Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8 year old is shy, introducing itself with a soft bouquet of sweetness and oak-derived vanilla.  Pouring from the dark brown bottle reveals an amber-gold color with some fleeting prismatic green notes.  Swirling produces a number of wide legs and a crown of beads, then randomly-dripping thin legs; the effect passes relatively quickly but releases an inner, more aromatic child.  The aromatic character is presented beautifully and understated, with milk-chocolate, caramel, some soft leather and dry tobacco, coffee bean, orange peel and prune - delectable combination that’s often copied by chocolatiers.  The initial taste is dry, adding very mild white pepper and star anise spice on a medium-lightweight body.  The finish linger for a couple of nice moments, then fades dryly.

Anecdotes
Freshly harvested sugarcane vesou is fermented with a proprietary strain of yeast for approximately 72 hours, and the resulting vinasse of ~7% ABV is then double- or triple-distilled.  The first distillation yields a spirit with an initial ABV of about 70%.  A second distillation yields a higher-strength spirit of 90-92% ABV.  The newly distilled liquor is diluted with water to 50% ABV before storing in French Limousin oak barrels and set aside for aging.  Before bottling, the rhum is filtered to remove impurities and achieve color clarity. 

Opinion
There is no doubt that Barbancourt Réserve Spéciale 8 year old is a rhum vieux agricole – a personal survey of rhum producers on Martinique and Guadeloupe found universal agreement on that categorization.  But what is so interesting about Barbancourt’s rhums is their unique production method.  Aside from using fresh-crushed sugarcane juice,  the fermentation and distillation are a step or two outside the boundaries of Martinique’s AOC requirements, and even uncommon to Guadeloupe’s individual, evolved traditional rum production methods.  Vive le difference – ain’t that what makes rum so grand anyway?  To my palate, Barbancourt 5 Star is far more dignified than say, Callwood Distillery’s Arundel 10 year pot-still sugarcane rum produced on Tortola, more brash and less purely French than Martinique’s rigid AOC rhums, and  more recalcitrant than Guadeloupe’s burley rhums. Yet they are all distant cousins, each holding a necessary place in the agricole family tree.  Thank you Barbancourt and Thierry Gardere for persevering and maintaining your pursuit of a uniquely traditional identity.  It’s taken me over 10 years of sipping and traveling to finally understand you.  Perhaps I finally comprehend.

Reviewed:  May 2016 after repeated tasting from June 2006 onward, including the domestic 37.5% ABV expression in the Caribbean and at The Rum Gallery, USA.

© Dave Russell 2017