Review: Rhum Barbancourt Estate Reserve 15 Year

We recently reviewed the eight year version of Rhum Barbancourt’s product line, and the consensus was that it’s a good, mild rum. But their offerings don’t stop there — Barbancourt also has a version that has been aged in those same Limousin oak casks for a full fifteen years, and I’m curious to see if the same flavors we find in a cognac start appearing in these rums.



Rum production in the Caribbean has been going on for longer than the United States has been in existence. The earliest references date back to 1651, but production in Haiti seems to be tied closely with its French colonial history. Together with Martinique, Guadalupe, and other islands in the Caribbean, these French territories began cranking out rum starting around 1811. The hallmark of French rum production was that instead of using blackstrap molasses (the waste product from producing raw granulated sugar from sugar cane plants), the distilleries would instead use fresh pressed sugar cane juice directly in their fermentation process. For distilleries still within France, this process is protected as Rhum Agricole.

On March 18, 1862, a pair of French brothers in Haiti named Dupré and Labbé Barbancourt began similarly distilling rum directly from fresh pressed sugar cane juice. Originally from the region of Charente, which is known for its rich history of cognac distillation, it makes sense that fermenting and distilling spirits would be something familiar that made sense to try. Their spirit was an instant hit, and started a family owned business that continues to operate to this day.

Labbé left the company in 1906, leaving his brother in sole control of the business. Upon Dupré’s death ownership of the distillery passed to Dupré’s wife Nathalie Gardère, and that side of the family has owned and operated it ever since. The latest CEO of the company is Delphine Nathalie Gardère, who entered that role in 2017. The company remains headquartered in Port-Au-Prince, Haiti and is 100% privately owned.


To produce their first rum, the Barbancourt brothers copied the original cognac production method and simply substituted fresh sugar cane juice for grape juice to start the process. Today, the process has been updated but follows roughly the same pattern.

As with other similar French rums, Barbancourt starts with fresh pressed sugar cane juice. The raw sugar cane is sourced from 3,000 individual farmers on the island of Haiti, totaling about 40,000 tons of plants. These sugar cane plants are crushed to express the juice inside, which is then fermented with a specific strain of Haitian yeast that has been in use for 150 years to create a mildly alcoholic (~7% alcohol) liquid. The excess plant material (the bagasse, in rum parlance) is then burned to generate heat, steam, and electricity for the operations on the facility.

Barbancourt uses a variation of the distillation process from mainland France to selectively capture the flavors and concentrate the alcohol in their product. While cognac requires the use of a pot still, Barbancourt uses a trio of column stills (also called continuous stills) to heat the sugary liquid with steam and cause the individual elements to boil. These boiling components are then captured and re-distilled again in a second and further in a third column still to produce the raw white rum.

Once distilled, the raw rum is placed into oak barrels. These barrels are sourced from Limousin, France (the same barrels used in the production of cognac) and shipped to Haiti, where they are locally constructed and filled with raw rum. Each barrel will be re-used for about 40 years before being replaced. After sitting in the barrels for a period of fifteen years, the rum is blended, proofed down, and bottled for sale.


Just like with their standard version of rum, the bottle is roughly wine bottle shaped. But there are some significant and important differences.

The biggest thing to notice is that the glass on this bottle has a matte black finish, like coarse volcanic ash. It obscures the contents of the bottle, which I’m not a huge fan of, but it makes for a striking presentation. The black glass is capped off with a metallic yellow screw-on cap.

Continuing that metallic copper theme, the label on the front of this bottle has that same finish and the label almost appears to be a brass plaque attached to the front. On the label is the Barbancourt logo and the details about this specific product, which does a good job of not crowding the label. I will say, though, that it seems a bit sparse — I think it over-shot the mark and seems to have a ton of open space that isn’t really being used. If you’re going to go with a flashy label like this, I feel like you should be doing something with it.

I found this bottle for sale with an accompanying cardboard sleeve that was much more ornately decorated and something that I think really helps it stand out. The artwork is a great Caribbean vibe, with vibrant colors capturing the fluid motion of a crowded street. It gives this bottle an authentic Haitian feeling and helps remind you where this bottle originated.



While the eight year version of this had a golden color to the liquid, this one is dark enough that it might almost pass for a glass of young cognac. There’s a rusty brown hue to the rum that makes it seem rich and delicious, and the aroma certainly helps that impression. I’m getting notes of baking spices, tropical fruits like bananas and pineapples, brown sugar, a touch of vanilla, and a little bit of that light and airy marshmallow aroma as well.

Taking a sip, this is a smooth and deliciously sweet spirit. Brown sugar is the primary flavor here, accompanied by some vanilla, nutmeg baking spices, banana, and of course that marshmallow texture. What’s most interesting is that I do get some of those traditional cognac flavors coming through, as well. Specifically, I’m seeing walnuts in addition to the brown sugar and vanilla, which seem to be directly attributable to the time this spent in a barrel.

On Ice

What’s interesting here is that, if anything, the aroma is even sweeter and richer than before. That brown sugar sweetness is intense and delicious, and comes combined with just enough vanilla to make it perfect. It really does remind me of that aroma you get when you’re making chocolate chip cookies and you just mixed up the brown sugar and vanilla in a bowl.

Unfortunately, that same strength and saturation doesn’t quite translate into the flavor. I’d say at this point, this spirit on the rocks tastes about the same as the eight year version does neat. There’s the marshmallow, vanilla, a bit of brown sugar, and just enough baking spices to keep it from being boring, but it doesn’t have quite the impression it left when taken neat.

Fizz (Dark and Stormy)

The worst thing that a rum can do here is nothing. This is basically the same formula as a Moscow mule — and if I wanted to only taste lime juice and ginger beer, that’s exactly what I would have ordered. I’m looking for the sweetness and the richness to come through and not only balance this drink but make it into something interesting.

On the one hand, this does balance nicely. There’s still plenty of brown sugar and sweetness in the rum to mellow out the other components, and it makes for a very sippable cocktail. But at the same time, there’s nothing all that interesting. The baking spices don’t really come through all that well, and even those tropical bananas get lost in the mix. It’s not giving me anything to work with really.


Overall Rating

I’ll put the bottom line up front: I like this bottle. It was enjoyable to drink, and I’m going to keep it on my shelf for a long time. I feel like it compares favorably to other similar fresh pressed French rums like Rhum J.M. on Martinique, which are some of my favorite spirits in the whole world. I don’t think it has quite the same depth of terroir and character, but it comes close.

More specifically, this has a lot of the same basic characteristics that we saw with the eight year aged version of this rum, but as you might expect the barrel maturation flavors have been considerably punched up. There are more baking spices and more brown sugar and vanilla, but what I’m not getting are many vegetal or fruity components beyond a hint of banana. I’m not seeing the terroir, and I think the triple column distillation is what’s keeping that from shining through.

At this price point, I’d say it’s worth a try. It’s a good rum and there’s nothing wrong with it, but it doesn’t have as much character as I’d want to see. Compared to other similarly produced rums from French territories, I’d say both Neisson Rhum Vieux and Saint James 7 Year are better options, using the same fresh pressed sugar cane juice but getting better results.

Barbancourt Estate Reserve 15 Year
Produced By: Barbancourt
Production Location: Haiti
Classification: Rum
Aging: 15 Years
Proof: 43% ABV
Price: $69.99 / 750 ml
Overall Rating:
All reviews are evaluated within the context of their specific spirit classification as specified above. Click here to check out similar spirits we have reviewed.

Overall Rating: 3/5
A good solid rum, but not one that has significant depth or character for the price point.


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