Haitian rum maker rebuilds business after quake

Wed Mar 24, 2010 5:51pm EDT
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By Pascal Fletcher

PORT-AU-PRINCE (Reuters) - At Haiti's famous Barbancourt rum factory, patches of grass and shrubs around the warehouses are burned black from where the aging golden liquor spilled from oak casks split by the January 12 earthquake.

Hundreds of liters (gallons) of premier rum, some aged up to 15 years, seeped into the parched soil from the toppled casks, and hundreds of thousands of dollars of potential export revenue for the Caribbean country's oldest manufacturer evaporated into the humid tropical air.

"We never expected an earthquake," said Thierry Gardere, Director General of the Societe du Rhum Barbancourt, which produces what it probably Haiti's best-known export.

"We'd thought about floods, hurricanes, but nothing of this magnitude," added Gardere, who estimated his total losses from the catastrophic quake, between damaged equipment and lost rum stocks, at $4 million.

Now Gardere, the fourth generation of Haiti's rum making family, is painstakingly trying to rebuild his export business back to its previous pre-quake level.

Barbancourt's rum sales had doubled over the last five years to 3 million liters a year, carving out a niche brand name in the international liquor industry, with sales to the United States, Europe, the Caribbean and Latin America.

Gardere expected that with the losses to his aged stocks, sales this year would fall to around 2.5 million liters and it would take four to five years to fully rebuild the reserve.

"Unfortunately, we are not able to bottle at the moment, and we have to put our aging rooms back in order," said Gardere, standing among factory workers who were hammering and sawing to repair oak casks felled and splintered by the quake.   Continued...

<p>Thierry Gardere, Director General of the Societe du Rhum Barbancourt, speaks during an interview with Reuters in one of their factories in Port-au-Prince March 24, 2010. REUTERS/Felix Evens</p>