Rum Makers Are Elevating Sugar's Nectar to Higher Levels
Posted: August 1, 2000
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While Barbancourt is exported worldwide, it's not easy to track down the company. Several weeks of phoning the plant in Haiti produced no response; local thieves steal the telephone wires. Ultimately, I decided to make a personal visit, only to discover that the
roads in Port-au-Prince are in no better condition than the phone lines. The Barbancourt plant, itself, is an island of technology in the sea of sugarcane fields, however. Indeed, the fields themselves are surrounded by the rising tide of slums spreading from the capital. Gardère has been buying nearby acreage in an effort to protect the fields from encroachment, since the rum's quality depends on the local cane's natural ferments to augment the yeast cultures.
Unlike most rums in the English-speaking world, which use the molasses by-product from sugar refining to distill alcohol, Barbancourt uses the full juice of the sugarcane, milled on the premises the same day that it's cut in the fields. Within three days, the fermented juice is bubbling its way through the three-column still, leaving behind most of the hangover-inducing fusel oils.
What emerges is 90 percent alcohol (180 proof)and has to be cut with water before it enters the longest stage of its journey. It begins aging in large vats made by French carpenters out of white Limousin oak. Most of these coopers' time is spent constructing barrels for Cognac makers, so it's fitting that the final five years of the maturation stage of the Estate Reserve's life is spent in barrels that were previously used to age Cognac.
Once the rum gets to your lips, it is even more fitting to sip it, straight up, and roll it, like cigar smoke on the palate. After savoring Barbancourt, the Voodoo spirit will haunt you so that you'll never want Coke in your rum again. There is synergy in good rum and good cigars, made as they are side by side in places like Cuba and Jamaica. While Haiti makes no memorable cigars, it is, however, on the same island as the Dominican Republic--creating the potential for some memorable pairings. --Ian Williams
Ian Williams is a New York-based freelance writer.
SUGAR 'N' SMOKE
Given that rum and cigars are so often created in proximity, they are among the most perfect companions. Three Cigar Aficionado senior editors conducted a tasting of 13 rums to provide a starting point for your own experiments into pairing the two. First, the rums were blind tasted for overall impressions and to classify them in terms of their fullness of body. Then three cigars were chosen: a medium-bodied La Flor Dominicana Torpedo, a medium-to-full-bodied Hoyo de Monterrey Epicure No. 2 with five years of box age and a full-bodied Ashton VSG Belicoso No. 1. The panel smoked them one at a time, comparing them to the rums (whose identities were now known to the panel) in order of body strength. The rums are listed in order of preference.
BACARDI 8 RESERVA SUPERIOR (Bahamas)
By consensus, this medium- to full-bodied rum did best on its own and as a partner to cigars. Caramel, vanilla and licorice notes give this rum a slight resemblance to Bourbon, even as it expresses a delicate softness and a subtle, elegant finish. The Bacardi's sweetness overpowered the flavors of the La Flor Dominicana, but was otherwise an excellent partner to the cigars. It may have been the best match for the Hoyo of all the rums, rounding out the cigar and bringing out its earthy and leather notes. The rum became sweeter and more complex, and the finish seemed to stretch forever. The match with the Ashton was well balanced and almost as good. Leather and nut notes were emphasized in the cigar, and the rum seemed rounder and chewier.
ANIVERSARIO PAMPERO (Venezuela)
Another rush of flavors, the full-bodied Pampero is loaded with spice flavor--a graham-crackery ginger note, cloves, cinnamon and tea--tempered with lemon notes and a finesse that masks its complexity. The rum's full body overpowered the La Flor, but gave it some leather notes. An excellent partner to the Hoyo, the Pampero gave the cigar spice and received it in return. They seemed to talk to each other, as the rum woke up and the cigar gained power. Pampero's pairing with the Ashton was the best of the rums with that cigar. The Ashton settled down with hints of toast and cream and its leather and chocolate notes were accentuated. The rum became even more elegant and balanced, with a hint of honey.
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