Crazy for Clairin, Haiti's Wild Ancestral Rum
Attention all amateur and professional rum fans! With the much anticipated launch of La Maison & Velier in the United States comes their coveted Clairin releases. For the uninitiated, Clairin (meaning “clear” in the native Haitian Creole) may seem like a standard unaged rum but is really much more. There is so much culture and terroir in this juice that it deserves recognition and understanding of what this spirit is and how it came to be.
How did it come to be?
While it may seem innocuous, understanding a bit of Haitian history helps explain the purity of Clairin.
Haiti had been a French colony from 1625 until the end of the Haitian Revolution in 1804, when they gained their independence. The island remained mostly untouched by the industrial revolution and other advances that swept the rest of the world, staying largely rural and agrarian.
An effect of this lack of industrialization is that the farming remains 100% organic, with no chemicals of any kind used on the sugar cane grown for making Clairin. Further, all of the sugar cane varietals are natural and have existed on the island for the last 200+ years with no introduction of GMO or hybrid strains.
One of the remnants from French, and previously Spanish rule was the method of distilling in pot or small column stills. These stills and small distilleries are spread throughout the country and number in the hundreds if not thousands. Most villages have a distillery just like they’d have a church or watering hole, and they are a key part of the community, providing spirits for communal consumption.
What is it?
During a trip to Haiti in 2012, Luca Gargano, the head of Velier, traveled around scouting these distilleries searching for exceptional distilled offerings. What he found was Clairin, the unaged National spirit of Haiti. Showcasing the pure essence of its surrounding through the care and tradition of the process in which its made.
Velier has created a guideline for the production of Clairin defining its ingredients and production:
- Sugarcane varieties have to be indigenous to Haiti and not hybrids. Sugarcane has to be totally organic, wild or cultivated in polyculture.
- Harvest must be made by hand.
- Transportation of the sugarcane to the distillery has to be done by animals. (!)
- Raw material, Juice must not be diluted with water to reduce the brix. Chemicals or acids must not be added to the juice (just citric natural juices) Syrup can be used, but has to be managed with same criteria.
- Fermentation of the juice (or diluted syrup) has to develop with natural yeasts only, yeasts of the sugarcane itself. No selected yeasts are allowed in fermentation. Fermentation has to take at least 120 hours.
- Distillation has to be done in pot still or small batch still with small column (maximum 5 plates) on top.
- Final product– Clairin has to be bottled at strength of the distillation, with no dilution. Still proof.
- Bottling must be done in Haiti.
The experience of drinking Clairin for the first time is much the same as the experience enjoying Mezcal for the first time. It looks like any ordinary white rum. The smell is familiar yet notably different. And on your first sip you are blown away by the depth and breadth of flavor. This is not a one trick pony, this is an Arabian Stallion that used to be owned by a Sultan before being sold to the Queen of England, now living out his days in the Irish Countryside. By that I mean it has a lot of character.
For the initial US release Velier has 3 varietals to offer, each from a distinct region and distiller with a vintage noted. The vintage is critical. Due to the dramatic weather of the Caribbean, hurricanes, the sugar crop and natural yeast can change from year to year affecting the end result. Think of it in the same way wines have vintages and how wet versus dry years can alter the taste of the finished product.
How do I get my hands on it?!
The product is available in-store, and by phone only at this time. Swing by the shop, or give us a call at 650.741.6430 and we'll be able to help you out! Thank you for your patience; we're so excited to share this product with you!
Fritz Vaval makes his Clairin from a sugarcane varietal called Madame Meuze. The cane is transported by donkeys and pressed in a small mill. The fermentation lasts around 3-5 days and is carried out using natural yeasts without adding water or artificial substances. When it leaves the column, the Clairin capacity is between 50° and 55°. It is stored in 200 litre drums before being sent to Port-au-Prince to be bottled. This Clairin is notable for its seaside note
Michel Sajous distillery is in the middle of a 30 hectare plantation, growing different varieties of cane, among which has been rediscovered the Cristalline. The distillation is made from a small traditional pot still composed of a 1000 litre boiler heated by direct fire. The distillate is between 50° and 52° when it leaves the still and it is directly sent to Port-au-Prince to be bottled without any reduction to its alcohol content. Sajous is a great intro into the Clairin category, its a crowd pleaser with typical tropical rum notes with the volume turned up to 11.
Faubert Casimir continues the work started by his father Duncan in 1979 and is considered the most distinguished distiller in the area. He cultivates fifty hectares of Hawaii Blanche and Hawaii Rouge cane; these are un-hybridised soft, tiny canes. What makes Casimir’s Clairin and others made in his region unique is the addition of herbs or vegetable matter to the cane juice during fermentation. These typically include citronella, cinnamon, and occasionally ginger. This is a very savory Clairin with lots of earthy, smoky notes.