Rum Sour and other drinks. Prose from a cocktail-lover. Barbancourt rum

My body seems to adapt to the climate here by reacting with long, violent headaches – which, sadly, but truly, are in no way a result of immoderate consumption of alcoholic beverages every evening. I don’t even get there…

Nonetheless, the general assumption seems to be that I am going through a continuous hangover – as any local I’m talking to seems to see it. Most conversations start like that: ‘Bonjour Madame, ça va?’ – ‘yeah, all great, except for the headache’ (greenish pallor on my face, eyes narrowed to slits..) Answer vary from neutral: ‘oh, a hangover?’ to broad-grinned: “you must have spent a hell of a partynight, Ma’am!…’

There seems to be nothing like ‘natural migraine’ as a reason for headaches, so I am left to assume that people here like to drink and are well aquainted with the side effects.

Some basics: Prestige, the national beer. Rather acid, but consumed very cold and in a moderate way, perfect for the beer-lover.

Barbancourt rum. Aged 5, 8 and 15 years. Said to be the best carribean rum. See history below.

Brown sugar from cane and – any tropical fruit you can think of, to ornate your cocktail with.

Bitter oranges from Haiti are used in Cointreau and Grand Marnier.

Music to go with the cocktails: a sugarcane-footage version of the song Ayiti Chérie from long time ago, closer to the 1920-original by Othello Bayard, here.


Rum Sour:

Rum Sour

  • 60ml golden Barbancourt rum
  • 45ml lemon/lime juice
  • 1/2 teaspoon superfine sugar

The Hotel Oloffson rum sour, quoted from Harris’ blog (see details below):

The standard way of making rum sours in Haiti seems to be to shake Barbancourt, freshly squeezed lime juice and sugar over ice, then serve, either strained or on ice, in a rocks glass with a sugared rim. The Hotel Oloffson rum sour differed in that a capfull or so of sweet vermouth went into the shaker.

Rum sour at the Oloffson ©

On my search for the best Rum Sour recipe I stumbled upon a blog called bunnyhugs: Seamus Harris is a New Zealander who travels the world in search for excellent cocktails. His journeys, which include a travel through Haiti in 2008, are described in great articles. I reccomend the lecture in its original version – just follow the links below:

November 2008-article – incl. pictures of PaP from before the quake
Haitian earthquake: raise a glass and donate – on January 12th, 2010


History of Rum Barbancourt, quote from

Alcoholic beverages are part of the history of Caribbean countries. Each country produces its warm liquid and several nationalized brands are recognized internationally.

Rum is a distilled alcoholic beverage made from sugarcane by-products such or, directly from sugarcane juices, by a process of fermentation and distillation. The distillate, a clear liquid, is then usually aged in oak barrels. Rum can be referred to as “ron viejo” (“old rum”) and “ron añejo” (“aged rum”). The history of rum began around 1640, on the island of Barbados. The word rum takes its origin from from the last syllable of the Latin word for sugar, saccharum.

La Societe du Rhum Barbancourt exports its products in over 20 countries and employs 250 people. La Societe du Rhum Barbancourt is one of the oldest Haitian businesses and indirectly generates more than 20,000 jobs across Haiti.

Three star, aged four years


Though, native to Asia, sugarcane has been spread by the Arabs in the eighth century and introduced to the Americas in 1493 during the second voyage of Christopher Columbus, on the occasion of the first European settlement in America on the Island Hispaniola.

The first official mention of the word rum dates back to July 8, 1661 in an order of the Governor General of Jamaica. It was after the improvement of the distillation process by Père Jean Baptiste Labat as rum distilled on St. Dominic began to have good reputation in France where it is compared to the best French brandy.

Nonetheless, each island or Caribbean countries, according to its traditions and habits, produces a rum with distinctive personality. Three main types of rum are defined according to the colonial tradition and the language spoken in the region. Spanish speaking countries produce light rums with a fairly clean taste. Anglophone countries are developing darker rums with a fuller taste retaining a significant taste of molasses. The agricultural rums from the French islands are distinguished by a production made exclusively from sugarcane juice. These rums keep the flavor of the sugarcane and are usually more expensive than molasses-based rums.

A symbol of pride for Haitians, Rhum Barbancourt is an agricultural rum produced in Haiti by the Société du Rhum Barbancourt, T. Gardère & Cie and widely regarded as among the finest rums in the world.

In 1862, Dupré Barbancourt, a native of Charente in France, founded the Sociéte du Rhum Barbancourt. He devised a rum by the method of double distillation used in Charente for cognac and aging in oak barrels from Limousin. This rum that still bears his name has received since its creation the highest international distinctions.

Dupré Barbancourt leaving no heir to his death, his wife, Nathalie Gardère, ran the company with his nephew, Paul Gardère, who succeeded him as head of the

company until 1946. At that time Rhum Barbancourt’s distillery, located on the Chemin des Dalles in Port-au-Prince, produced only limited quantities of rum. The older aged rums being exclusively reserved for family and friends. Paul then died in 1946 and his son Jean Gardère took up the baton, furthering the family tradition until 1990. An entrepreneur and a visionary, Jean Gardère was the instigator of Rhum Barbancourt’s modernization. In 1949, he relocated the distillery at the heart of the sugar cane fields of the Domaine Barbancourt.

By 1952, the factory began producing rum from sugarcane grown on its own plantation: Domaine Barbancourt. This allowed the company to grow from a small cottage industry to a proud international exporter, and by the middle of the 1960’s Rhum Barbancourt’s finest product, the 15 year old Reserve du Domaine was on public sale for the first time.

Upon the death of Jean, his son, Thierry Gardère succeeded him: he is now the fourth generation of family Gardère to lead the company and with his commitment to quality, fine natural ingredients, craftsmanship and the unique cognac-based production process that has ensured la Societe du Rhum Barbancourt has grown to become Haiti’s leading brand of rum.

Visit the Barbancourt website here

Barbancourt rum tasting by bunnyhugs

Ministry of rum webpage

The Oloffson

The Hotel Oloffson is an inn in central Port-au-Prince, Haiti. The main structure of the hotel is a late 19th century Gothic gingerbread mansion set in a lush tropical garden. The mansion was built as a residence for the powerful Sam family, including two former presidents of Haiti. The hotel was the real-life inspiration for the fictional Hotel Trianon in Graham Greene’s famous 1966 novel The Comedians.

Thursday night with RAM

“With its towers and balconies and wooden fretwork decorations it had the air at night of a Charles Addams house in a number of The New Yorker. You expected a witch to open the door to you or a maniac butler, with a bat dangling from the chandelier behind him. But in the sunlight or when the lights went on among the palms, it seemed fragile and period and pretty and absurd, an illustration from a book of fairy-tales.”  – Graham Greene, The Comedians

It was constructed as a private home for the Sam family. The head of a prestigious and influential family in Port-au-Prince, Tirésias Simon Sam was president of Haiti from 1896 to 1902. The mansion was built by Tirésias’s son, Demosthenes Simon Sam. The Sams lived in the mansion until 1915, when their cousin Vilbrun Guillaume Sam was selected from among a group of powerful politicians to assume the post of president, the fifth president in five years. Guillaume would be president for a scant five months.

 Sam had acted harshly against his political opponents, particularly the better educated and wealthier mulatto population. The epitome of his repressive measures came on July 27, 1915, when he ordered the execution of 167 political prisoners, including former president Zamor, who was being held in a Port-au-Prince jail. This infuriated the population, which rose up against Sam’s government as soon as news of the executions reached them. Sam fled to the French embassy, where he received asylum before being torn to pieces by an angry mob.

United States President Woodrow Wilson, concerned that the Haitian government might be seized by Rosalvo Bobo, who was thought to be sympathetic to the Germans, ordered the United States Marine Corps to seize Port-au-Prince. The occupation would eventually extend to the entire nation of Haiti. The Sam Mansion was used as a US military hospital for the duration of the occupation.


In 1935, when the occupation ended, the mansion was leased to Werner Gustav Oloffson, a Swedish sea captain from Germany, who converted the property into a hotel with his wife Margot and two sons Olaf and Egon. In the 1950s, Roger Coster, a French photographer, assumed the lease on the hotel and ran it with his Haitian wife, Laura. The hotel came to be known as the “Greenwich Village of the Tropics”, attracting actors, writers, and artists. Some of the suites in the hotel were named after the artists and writers who frequented the hotel, including Graham Greene, James Jones, Charles Addams, and Sir John Gielgud. 

A Connecticut native, Al Seitz, acquired the hotel lease in 1960. During the 1970s and early 1980s, the hotel enjoyed a brief period of fame and good fortune. Celebrities such as Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis and Mick Jagger were regular guests, and like Coster before him, Seitz named favorite rooms at the hotel after the celebrity guests. After Al Seitz died in 1982, his widow, the former Suzanne Laury, continued to operate it. As the grip of Duvalierism closed over the country, however, the foreign tourist trade dried up. The hotel survived by serving as the desired residence for foreign reporters and foreign aid workers who needed secure lodging in the center of town.

In 1987, with the help of his half-brother Jean Max Sam, Richard A. Morse signed a 15 year lease to manage the Hotel Oloffson, then in near ruins after the final years of Duvalierism. In restoring the hotel business, Morse hired a local folkloric dance troupe and slowly converted it into a band. Richard Morse would become the songwriter and lead male vocalist and the name of band, RAM, comes from his initials.

Throughout the political upheaval of Haiti in the 1990s, RAM’s regular Thursday evening performance at the hotel became one of the few regular social events in Port-au-Prince in which individuals of various political positions and allegiances could congregate. Regular attendees of the performances included foreign guests at the hotel, members of the military, paramilitary attachés and former Tonton Macoutes, members of the press, diplomats, foreign aid workers, artists, and businessmen. Attendees included both black Haitians and members of the nation’s less populous racial groups.

During the January 12, 2010 Earthquake, the Hotel Oloffson was damaged. US photographer Teuila Minsky who was also staying in the Oloffson, told the New York Times that a wall at the front of the Hotel Oloffson had fallen, killing a passer-by, and that several neighboring buildings had collapsed. Richard Morse, using the social networking site Twitter, was a major source of news coming out of the disaster area in the early hours. In a Twitter post from January 12, he states “Our guests are sitting out in the driveway.. no serious damage here at the Oloffson but many large buildings nearby have collapsed.” The hotel appears open and continues to operate.

View down from the decading attic

all text from wikipedia and hotel webpage, see reference below

Port-au-Prince Sights

The city of Port-au-Prince is on the Gulf of Gonâve: the bay on which the city lies, which acts as a natural harbour, has sustained economic activity since the civilisations of the Arawaks. It was first incorporated under the colonial rule of the French, in 1749, and has been Haiti’s largest metropolis since then. The city’s layout is similar to that of an amphitheatre; commercial districts are near the water, while residential neighborhoods are located on the hills above. 

Its population is difficult to ascertain due to the rapid growth of slums in the hillsides above the city; however, recent estimates place the metropolitan area’s population at around 3.5 million, nearly half of the country’s national population.

 Port-au-Prince was catastrophically affected  by an earthquake on January 12, 2010, with large numbers of structures damaged or destroyed. Haiti’s government has estimated the death toll at 230,000 and says more bodies remain uncounted.©wikipedia

The magnitude 7.0 earthquake centered about 16 kilometres (10 mi) away from Port-au-Prince hit the National Palace as well.

The collapsed cupola has become a symbol of the devastated quake-hit nation. The second floor of the building collapsed almost completely, taking the attic floor with it; the palace’s columned central pavilion, a section containing the main hall and primary staircase, was entirely demolished.

The National Palace before the quake ©wikipediaFrance has offered to rebuild the presidential palace.
At the time of the earthquake, President René Préval and his wife, Elisabeth Delatour Préval, were at their private residence in another part of Port-au-Prince.

January 2011. Posters of the presidential candidates, aligned in front of the palace

In April 2010, the Haitian government announced plans to demolish the palace in preparation for reconstruction. Sources were mixed as to whether the entire building would be razed, or merely the damaged/unstable portions.

In July, bulldozers appeared on site and began clearing the collapsed central pavilion.

As of August 2010, construction equipment remains on site at the palace, but demolition work appears to have stalled, with only the central rotunda demolished.

In front of the palace ruin, on the other side of the Champ de Mars avenue, on what once used to be a beautiful green park, 2’500 people are now living in a shelter camp.

Jean Jacques Dessalines’ statue, Chinese humanitarian aid

At the end of the avenue is a monument nicknamed “Aristide’s Folly” – built to commemorate 200 years of haitian independance in 2004. It was supposed to bear an eternal flame on top.

Champ de Mars Avenue. On the right, palace grounds. On the left, IDP-campIn spite of the image that is broadcasted by an indefatigable media in its craving for sensation, people here never lost their smiles.

Higher playground

One encounters happy and smiling faces even in the most miserable parts of the town. At Champ de Mars, a guy came out of the camp and cordially informed us about the presidential candidates and their different characteristics.

Remains of the cathedral. 21 people including the bishop died here one year ago. It is said they are burried on the grounds on the right of the building.

The artist Jerry is Banksys Haitian equivalent. The painting on the right represents the mourning country. (see Haiti’s shape on the map above)

Le Marché en Fer – newly reconstructed after the earthquake. On the 10th of January, painters were completing the finishing touch in time for the commemoration of the earthquake victims. One day later Bill Clinton held a speech here.

Gingerbread houses are called like that because of the graceful wooden artwork under the roof. This style was created by Haitian architects in the late 1800s. Returning from their study in Paris, they defined a “Haitian style”.  

The bricks used for the construction were originally brought in as balast for the empty trade ships arriving here for coffee, sugar and indigo.

There are some 300 houses still left today in Port au Prince. They resisted astonishingly well during the earthquake.


One more thing: please don’t drive around like that, in the belief you’re doing a good humanitarian aid thing. It’s provoking, dangerous and stupid. Thank you.

Special thanks to Jacqualine Labrom at for the wonderful guided tour through Port au Prince.

all quotes from wikipedia. see references below

link to the Haiti Patrimoine site. more gingerbread houses and wonderful monuments there!

link to the World Monument Fund

Arrival in Ayiti Cheri

Dear readers

I left Zürich for Haiti. This might be a little unexpected for some of you. I guess I’m not the best in letting people know early enough what I’m about to do. Maybe it’s because I don’t know it myself until shortly before it happens.

Farewells were bade the evening before I left, the night was very short – made me feel like I finally belonged somewhere. Maybe Zürich was never so close like since I learned I was going to leave. On the 5th of January the Iberia-plane took me to Madrid and from there to Santo Domingo, where I spent the night in a terrible touristic Karaoke-atmosphere, with no dinner but at least some beer.

The next morning I flew on to Port au Prince, without any breakfast, cause it was too early. A nice little ATR-plane brought us over the mountains of Hispaniola.

Ayiti (land of high mountains) was the indigenous Taíno or Amerindian name for the mountainous western side of the island.©wikipedia

The native Taino Amerindians – who inhabited the island of Hispaniola when it was discovered by Columbus in 1492 – were virtually annihilated by Spanish settlers within 25 years. In the early 17th century, the French established a presence on Hispaniola. In 1697, Spain ceded to the French the western third of the island, which later became Haiti.

The French colony, based on forestry and sugar-related industries, became one of the wealthiest in the Caribbean but only through the heavy importation of African slaves and considerable environmental degradation. In the late 18th century, Haiti’s nearly half million slaves revolted under Toussaint L’Ouverture. After a prolonged struggle, Haiti became the first black republic to declare independence in 1804. The poorest country in the Western Hemisphere, Haiti has been plagued by political violence for most of its history.

After an armed rebellion led to the forced resignation and exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in February 2004, an interim government took office to organize new elections under the auspices of the United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti (MINUSTAH). Continued violence and technical delays prompted repeated postponements, but Haiti finally did inaugurate a democratically elected president and parliament in May of 2006. A massive magnitude 7.0 earthquake struck Haiti in January 2010 with an epicenter about 15 km southwest of the capital, Port-au-Prince. An estimated 2 million people live within the zone of heavy to moderate structural damage. The earthquake is assessed as the worst in this region over the last 200 years and massive international assistance will be required to help the country recover. ©CIA factbook, read more here

Port au Prince is so different than in the news. So much better, actually! You can find anything here, except people who act like victims!

The oldest game in the world

You can even find any kind of food – including caviar and terrine de canard and Za’atar, for those of you who know it – cause many supermarkets are kept by Lebanese. But the best fruit and vegetables can be found in the streets, carried in huge baskets on women’s heads.

On the other hand, the tapwater is turbid and the air stinks of innumerable exhaust fumes, cause everybody is driving a 4×4. It’s understandable, the steep streets being as even as the river beds in the Atlas mountains.

But aren’t streets always uneven when you’re a stranger? We are way too white – and so are our cars…

I’ll start working tomorrow. Don’t know what to expect, but I have a good feeling about it.

And found a good song: Ayiti Cheri