Very little is known about Clairin outside of Haiti, but thanks to Luca Gargano, Clairin is now currently available in very limited batches across the UK & Europe. At time of writing theres very little information about Clairin on ‘tinterweb’, but here is what ive collated.
‘Clairin is a style native to Haiti, similar in production and character to agricole rum. That makes sense, as it’s the style most associated with France, and Haiti was a French colony before gaining independence in 1804.’ [More from TWE later]
‘In Haiti, there is no tradition of mixed drinks, and rhum – which Haitians call Clairin – is drunk straight. Clairin is characterised by the use of native cane varieties, chemical-free agriculture, spontaneous fermentation without selected yeasts, “archaic” distillation and no filtering.’
‘Haiti is the last rum frontier and “Clairin” is the native rum. No one before Velier had ever discovered the inconceivable: there are now 49 running distilleries in the entire Caribbean and no less than 532 in Haiti alone!’
‘The small craft distilleries are scattered throughout the only Caribbean country that rebelled against slavery in 1804 and was shown the red card by the Western world. Today, Haiti is the only country that remains wonderfully “pure” with its original species of un-hybridised sugar cane, chemical-free farming, spontaneous fermentation with no yeasts, and archaic unfiltered distillation. Unexplored and surprising aromaticity, not only for cane distillates, they are the only natural rums in the world!’
And who is it that has tried these spirits & has also helped bring Clairin to the attention of a wider [whisky] audience? – none other of course than the one and only, Serge Valentin:
- Clairin Casimir (53.4%, OB, Haiti, +/-2015) – 111015
- Clairin Casimir ‘Batch 2’ (54%, OB, Haiti, +/-2014) – 070216
- Clairin Sajous (53.5%, Velier, Haiti, batch #2, 2014) – 021114
- Clairin Sajous 2015 (51%, OB, Haiti) – 111015
- Clairin Vaval (51.1%, OB, Haiti, +/-2015) – 111015
- Clairin ‘World Championship 2016’ (46%, Velier) – 091016
My learnings from the Velier team at RumFest 2016.
Every village in Haiti has/makes it’s own Clairin, produced from locally harvested sugar cane which is naturally fermented and then distilled in a similar fashion to rhum agricole using continuous pot stills. Its frequently produced in small batches like local ale or cider to be drunk as-soon-as. Chelo is the biggest producer of Clairin on Haiti and yet the distillery is still ultimately a shed [see pic below], situated on a small 30 hectare sugar plantation near the village of Saint Michel de L’attalaye.
‘As with a traditional agricole rum, they use sugar-cane juice at Chelo rather than molasses. However, they use concentrated juice, reduced over fires of burning bagasses, the ground up remains of the pressed canes. The concentrated juice can be kept for about 18 months, unlike freshly pressed, allowing the distillery to make clairin throughout the year’.
‘They ferment the juice using wild yeast – in essence, they leave it uncovered and hope that some yeast turns up. Fortunately, yeast is quite common, living on the surface of the canes as well as all around the distillery, and the syrupy juice turns into an alcoholic sugar-cane wine over seven to 10 days. This is then distilled twice and bottled without dilution – the second batch is 53.5%, quite low for something straight from the still, but more flavoursome for it’.
Made at Chelo – owned by Michel Sajous who built the distillery on his family’s sugar plantation. Velier has secured only 100 bottles [of this batch] for the whole of Europe.
- N: Demerara funk, Indian spices, tomato fudge [who knew?], ozone and cereal crop-mash.
- T: Again, aromatically spiced and with no heat – quite something for a raw white spirit bottled at 51%.
- F: Though Clairin is seen by some Haitians as the poor mans spirit compared to branded rums, its in these final stages that the quality of this Clairin spirit rings true.
- C: Hey hey, Clairin – bring it on!
Scores 82 points
I asked the Velier team how they how they came to acquire these uniquely local spirits. Dan, an animated, larger than life, bearded and passionate Italian tells me that only a few years ago, Luca whilst hiking through the forests of Haiti [as you do], crossed paths with a farmer transporting freshly cut sugar cane on the back of a cart being pulled by two oxen. Luca proceeded to follow that man and his harvest back to the village of Saint Michel De L’attalaye where he duly discovered their Clairin. Luca told the man that he wished to buy some of their spirit. The elders of the village offered him a price of $2 a litre. Out of respect for the spirit, Luca countered the elders with a higher offer, promising to pay them instead $5 per litre. He has since secured Clairin from other villages/distilleries such as Arawaks and Douglas [Faubert?] Casimir.
Clairin Vaval comes from the Arawaks distillery in the Haitian village of Cavaillon, distilled in a continuous Creole still.
- N: Notes of coconut & tomato Wheat Crunchies, black cardamon seeds fried in a sweet-savoury oil, a touch of ‘Clynelish’ funk, Bombay mix, cloves, nan bread, mint and [Italian] mixed herbs.
- T: Oh, this is good. Theres a cereal-crop chew that gets my head nodding.
- F: ,….. sweetness ,….. and travels
- C: This is positively destructive. What I’m getting at here is, its nothing like anything my nasal & taste senses have come across before. For Haitians, their daily tipple yet for Westerners, something quite out of the ordinary.
Scores 87 points
From the Douglas Casimir distillery in Haiti, also often referred to as the Faubert Casimir distillery – or am i confused again?
- N: This sits somewhere between the Vaval and the Sajous on the nose, with more tomato Wheat Crunchies – this time more salted & flavoured specifically with Heinz tomato soup flavouring. Its also very yeasty.
- T: Ballsy, strong & meaty with a firm suggestion of dunnage.
- F: ,….. holds on for a good length of finish
- C: All very good.
Scores 84 points
I really look forward to trying more Clairin from different batches and from different villages/distilleries. In the meantime, Dan told me ‘if you think Clairin is crazy, go check out Mescal’. That i will!