Clairin – The Spirit of Haiti

Things just work a bit differently in Haiti. Screwed by history and a lack of institutions, it just seems as if time has stopped in Haiti at some point. Many things are just more basic and traditional. At least with rum production, that is often times seen as a plus. The country is home to hundreds of small rum producers filling the entire range from “I’m happy I’m not blind” to top-notch distillation. And terroir is actually a thing here; I don’t think there’s another country out there with such a large palette of flavours as Haiti! The reasons are differences in the used cane variety, (looong) fermentation methods and the yeast. Distillation is often times very basic with small pot stills where the Clairin is basically bottled straight from the still.
Moreover, what’s very nice about these Clairins, besides the products themselves, is that you get to know the stories behind the products. You get to know the individuals who are responsible for what you are drinking and you know whom you support. Not any large conglomerates but small scale farmers who happen to know quite a lot about rum production. I think this is a very likeable change for once and something I am looking forward to support!
This should be the fourth wave of releases if I am not mistaken, which also saw the addition of the Le Rocher and the second version of the World Championship.


cas (2)Clairin Casimir 2016 (48,3%): Casimir, named after second generation distiller Faubert Casimir, is made in Baradères, located in the Nippes Département in the southern strip of the island. Casimir is considered by many to be the one of if not the the best distiller on the island. Using mostly Hawaiian White and Red sugar cane, the fresh juice is fermented with the addition of spices and vegetal leafs, similar to what they are doing at Hampden Estate in Jamaica. This allows the yeast to creat different compounds and to create special flavours in the wines. In the nose, we can easily recognise this. This is incredibly pungent stuff with all sorts of polish, varnish, esters, fusels, fuel etc. Behind that massive wall of aromas we can also find slightly woody nuances as well as fresh cane and lime. Wow! The best part about it is that it translates very nicely to the palate. The usually rather unpleasant notes mentioned above don’t come across as such on the tongue. Instead, we are welcomed by ultra flavourful notes of cucumber, ginger, ground pepper, mint, banana leafs, and more earthy and vegetal notes. This is superb and should make one heck of a Moscow Mule. Or Haitian Mule if you want. This is the only one that I could compare to a previous batch and the current version is decidedly more balanced I must say. It is unmistakably the same stuff and I believe that everyone who ever had a Casimir will always be able to recognise its very distinct nose but this batch works much better for me.

saj (2)Clairin Sajous 2016 (54,3%): Michel Sajous owns a plantation of 30-hectares in Saint Michel de l’Attalaye, where he plants different cane varieties. Among them is also the relatively rare Christalline, which is also used by Neisson for example and this Clairin in particular. Fermentation is especially long and takes from seven to ten days, until which the wild yeasts have turned the sugar to wine. Sajous’ distillery is called Chelo, who distill in a small pot still. As with the Casimir, Simeon Michel is responsible for the artwork. But let’s taste. Here we have clear varnish, glue and, compared to the first batch, only a handful of raspberries. Behind that we can find woody aromas, which is rather strange given that these Clairins have been bottled straight from the still. At the palate, it is way fruitier than one would expect after sniffing. It feels like we are wandering through a field of raspberries and sugar cane, drinking a hot, spiced Ti Punch combination. Relatively speaking, it’s more lovely and drinkable than the Casimir yet not less intense. It is not incredibly complex but it works very, very well if you ask me. While the Casimir is arguable more flavourful, I think I like this one a bit better. Well, sometimes at least. Both are quite good.

vav (2)Clairin Vaval 2016 (48,8%): This is the produce of Fritz Vaval’s Distillerie Arawaks located in Cavaillon near Les Cayes towards the west end of the country’s southern strip. Operating since 1947, the family owns a 20 hectares plot of land where they cultivate Madame Meuze cane, the juice of which is fermented naturally with wild yeast. Even though they also own an old copper column still with ten trays and a condenser that has been made from used gasoline cans, this Clairin has been distilled discontinuously in a pot still. Some of the Clairin is also put in barrels for ageing. Nose: Plenty of vanilla and light citrus notes crawl out of the glass. Add pineapple chunks, slightly sour apples and a few more vegetal notes. It’s not as intense as the others but still incredibly aromatic. The first sip confirms this. Vegetal flavours meet a mix of spices and once again more citrussy notes. Then plenty of salt and fuel. Where is this coming from all of a sudden!? The finish is increasingly salty with hints of fuel here and there. It’s not bad but probably my least favorite of the bunch. If you want to learn more about the distillery, check out this video.

roch (2)Clairin Le Rocher 2017 (46,5%): The “new” one. Nose: Wow, what’s going on here? Bacon, plenty of bacon! Then ham, bacon-crisps and Schlenkerla smoke beer. I am not sure whether to love or hate it, right now I am just flummoxed. The palate has the same meaty structure and the Clairin is way more smoky than the nose suggested. Some heavily peated Whiskies have the same bacony smokiness but I have never had it in another spirit before. Again, I am not sure what to make out of this but either way, this Clairin is an enriching addition to the array of rum. The finish retains the smokiness as well as the ham and bacon flavours. Oha! This should be a love it or hate it one. I strongly recommend getting a sample first with this one.

wc (2)Clairin World Championship 2017 (46%): The World Championships is a blend of the four Clairins above, diluted to 46%. I have already reviewed the previous edition here. The nose is dominated by the raspberries of the Sajous, which has to be the most distinct of the bunch. Behind that a sea of kerosine and petrol as well as more vegetal notes and salt. At the palate it is not quite as clear though. A heavily salted brine, soy or teriyaki sauce and earthy/ vegetal flavours are my best descriptions of what we encounter here. The finish is strong on the brine again but I can now also find the kerosine from the nose again. Spices want to join as well. I like it but I don’t think I prefer this to the individual ones.


Verdict

These Clairins are not your typical rums. In fact, they are probably as far away from that as possible but I guess many of you know that by now. I think chances are, if you are reading this blog more or less regularly, you are pretty much a rum geek. What is more, I think that at some point, when you’ve found out which styles and distilleries you like and once you’re familiar with most vintages and expressions, it are special products like these that mainly attract your attention. More generally, that may be new vintages, unknown distilleries, or something that is sometimes described by its own subcategory as Clairin.
From this bunch, I have a lot of love for the Casimir and the Sajous, which are both pretty much aromatic bombs and about as flavourful as it gets. The Vaval falls of a bit if you ask me and the Le Rocher is just too special. All of them are worth tasting however and I am sure that all of them broaden your rum horizon if you haven’t tried them yet. Finally, the World Championship is also quite nice but I actually do not see a reason in getting that one if you already have or know one or two of the single estates.

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