It has survived 19 coups, military rule, hurricanes, and even a three-year embargo.
But in the Jan. 12 earthquake, Haiti's best-known export and one of its oldest businesses, Rhum Barbancourt, suffered a $4 million setback. Amber bottles and white oak vats — some containing rum as old as 15 years — crashed to the distillery floor.
It could take up to four years for production of one of the world's top rums to return to its pre-quake capacity, though the owner is hoping to resume bottling and shipping by late April or early May — an emphatic sigh of relief, to be certain, to rum connoisseurs the world over.
"We are ready to recover," said Thierry Gardère, general director and fourth generation in the family to run the business.
As distillery workers make repairs to pipes, vats, and the aging room, Barbancourt soldiers on, yielding a cognac-like spirit that fans say maintains its cachet in spite of Haiti's challenges. The rum is savored among niche drinkers in large part because it's made with hand-cut, locally grown sugar cane juice and not molasses.
"It's pretty spectacular that Barbancourt is still here, is still great, and is still setting a high standard that other companies have to match — especially at their luxury level," said Robert Burr, the Coral Gables publisher of the Gifted Rums Guide.
In the earthquake that claimed at least 200,000 lives and left more than a million homeless, not even the seemingly bullet-proof Barbancourt eluded damage. Heavily hit was Barbancourt's aging room where 30 percent of the vats were banged up.
The company also lost two employees, who died when their homes flattened. More than 25 percent of the employees saw their homes collapse, including Gardère's near the quake-destroyed Hotel Montana. Some homeless employees camped in a nearby soccer field along with 300 others.
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