This should not be news to anyone, but earlier this year Haiti experienced one of the worst natural disasters in the modern Western Hemisphere — a massive earthquake that killed over 100,00 people, devastated the entire country and completely destroyed its capital, Port-Au-Prince.
The subject of Haiti hits VERY close to home at Mutineer Magazine. One of our very own editors, Brian Kropf, is currently stationed with the U.S. Army in Haiti.
The mass destruction in Haiti in combination with having a really good friend stationed there got me thinking about the beverage culture on the island. Does Haiti have a beverage culture? And if so, what does it look like?
In Haiti, RUM is king. Although Haiti is one of the smallest rum producers in the Caribbean basin, it is often renowned as the world’s best producer of rum.
Haiti has been producing rum since Columbus brought sugar cane to the Caribbean from Madeira on his “second voyage of discovery” in 1493. Whether it be staffing sugar cane farms, factories, distilleries or sales forces, the rum industry is indirectly one of the greatest employers in Haiti.
In Haiti, rum is taken very seriously. Rum is sold everywhere, from gas stations to street markets.
Being an extremely superstitious culture, Haiti is known for its rum-based rituals. Haitian voodoo priests are known to take the highest quality rum – referred to as “golden rum” – and soak the ground with it in hopes of raising the dead.
Founded in 1862, Barbancourt is by far the most well-known producer of Haitian rum. Unlike white rum, which is made from the molasses byproduct of sugar production, Barbancourt uses pure sugar cane juice to produce its rum. Fermenting with fresh sugar cane juice tends to create a more flavorful product. Brazilians are also known for using pure sugar cane juice to produce cacacha.
Unfortunately, Barbancourt was not immune from the earthquake that struck Haiti on January 12, 2010. Located just north of Port-au-Prince, Barbancourt got hit really hard. It has been reported that many of the distillery walls collapsed, machinery was damaged, and about one-third of the plant’s rum stored in French oak vats was lost. In addition to the damage at the plant, the biggest devastation for its employees was the destruction of most of their homes.
Barbancourt is currently in the process of rebuilding. However, time is not on its side. The most recent sugar cane crop is approaching 10 months maturity. Sugar cane needs to be picked between 8 and 12 months maturity. But with no where to take the crop yields, the harvest has been suspended. Hopefully, the stars will align for Barbancourt and they will be able to restore operations within the next two months.
According to its website, The Barbancourt Foundation has made its main priority to help the homeless in the region of Blanchard and Damiens in the North-West area of Port-Au-Prince. The Barbancourt Foundation is urgently in need of various supplies. For information on how you can contribute, visit the official website.
One of the ways that we, as beverage consumers, can help Haiti is to consume Haitian rum.
Barbancourt is excellent on its own – whether straight up, neat or with a single ice cube. But if drinking straight rum is not your thing, there are a lot of great cocktail recipes that use dark rum. Personally, the Mai Tai is my favorite!
Mai Tai (The Original Trader Vic’s Recipe 1944)
¾ oz. Fresh lime juice
½ oz. Holland DeKuyper Orange Curacao
¼ oz. Rock Candy Syrup
½ oz. Orgeat Syrup (or substitute almond syrup)
Shake vigorously. Add a sprig of fresh mint.