Very Smooth. The color is beautiful dark shade of mahagony, the woody look no doubt the result of aging in French oak barrels. The aromas are only moderately complex and don’t stray far from the sweet category, but build to a subtle depth. First comes a sweet caramel bouquet, then heavier aromas of caramel, brown sugar, butterscotch, subdued earthy scents of sweet sugarcane, mild tobacco leaves and vanilla. Initial tasting reveals a denser body than the aromas suggested, with an added woody character before the sweet caramel flavor. The finish is interestingly drier than the aromas and flavors would hint at, but is nonetheless pleasant and medium long. Overall, Vieux Labbé Edition Speciale has more in common with rums from the Dominican Republic, on the east side of Hispaniola, than Haiti’s more well-know Barbancourt rhums.
To view some photo and read more about the Labbé rum story, see my friend and colleague Bob “The Rumelier” Davies’ article called Haitian Rums & Clarin here.
Vieux Labbé is a product of Berling SA, which makes 3, 5, and 10 year old rhums in addition to flavored liqueurs. The Jane Barbancourt distillery produces rhum for Berling SA, labeled as Vieux Labbé, but is not to be confused with Barbancourt rhums. Huh?
Background: Seigfried Linge emigrated to Haiti during World War II and subsequently married a Haitian woman named Jane Barbancourt. Together they established a distillery by the same name, which produces rhum for Berling called Vieux Labbé.
From Berling’s website here, we find this historical perspective"
“Haiti has produced over thirty brands of rum since 1765. Unfortunately today there is only a handful remaining. Berling S.A. is one of these few remaining labels, producing rum aged in oak barrels as in true tradition originating in Cognac, France. Berling S.A releases only specially selected rums and is proud to offer among these The Vieux Labbé Premium Rum, in memory of Labbé Barbancourt, Grandfather of the late Jane Barbancourt, Great-grandfather of Herbert Barbancourt Linge who is today President of Berling S.A. Herbert Barbancourt Linge has preserved his family’s well kept secrets of rum making from his ancestors and has utilized these and the talent of his Father, Rudolf Linge, renown perfume maker from France, who settled in Haiti during World War II, to produce this rum of excellence offered by Berling S.A. Berling S.A will continue to maintain these traditions and produce rums of the finest quality for your enjoyment today and in the future.”
The brand of rhum known as Barbancourt is produced by Succrs de Jean Gardere et Cie. Frenchman Dupre Barbancourt founded Maison Barbancourt in 1862, and upon his death, ownership of the company was transferred to his wife, Natalie Gardere. Since no children resulted from their marriage, Mrs. Gardere passed the operation on to her nephew, Paul Gardere. The Gardere family still owns the widely respected Barbancourt brand.
In a nutshell, the Jane Barbancourt distillery produces Vieux Labbé rhum. The Garderre Company produces Barbancourt rhum. The two are completely separate businesses.
Cue Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet: “What's in a name? That which we call a rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Indeed. Forget the name game and let’s have a drink. The rhum reviewed here is a special bottling honoring the art of producing rhum. In any event, Vieux Labbé has history and pedigree, yet its lack of international distribution ensures that few of us will be lucky enough to taste a Haitian rum that hasn’t been adjusted for contemporary mass appeal. It’s not the most sophisticated rum in my collection, but it is interesting simply by obscurity. Most important of all, it’s eminently drinkable. Neat.
Reviewed: By Dave, February 2012 at the Rum Gallery, USA.