Like many islands of the Caribbean, Haiti has a history that is rich in rum production. But look deeper and you’ll find that the island has its own indigenous spirit known as clairin, which at first glance may look like a regular unaged rum, but in reality there’s so much more to it.
How Do You Define Clairin?
Meaning ‘clear’ in French Haitian creole, clairin is a variety of rhum agricole that adheres to its own set of production principles and flavour profiles. Luca Gargono of independent bottlers Velier can be credited for defining a clear set of guidelines for understanding clairin and how it’s produced.
- The sugarcane varieties used to make clairin are indigneous to Haiti and aren’t hybrids. Harvesting the sugarcane must be done by hand.
- Transportation of the sugarcane to the distillery has to be done by animals.
- The raw materials of clairin, sugarcane juice or sugarcane honey, can’t be diluted with water to reduce the brix and chemicals can’t be added either.
- The fermentation of sugarcane juice has to be developed with natural yeasts only. There can’t be any selected yeasts and fermentation has to take at least 120 hours.
- Clairin distillation is carried out in a pot still or small batch still with a maximum of five column plates on top.
- The spirit must be bottled in Haiti.
Voudou priest Dutty Boukman entered legend when he started the Haitian Revolution and his legacy is celebrated with Boukman rhum, a botanical spirit that contains locally foraged ingredients like boise bande, zou-devant, bois cochon, campeche, bitter orange peel and oak.
There’s a lot to love about this clairin for it’s spicy, vegetal notes that run the gamut from lemongrass to cardamon. The packaging is also eye-catching, with an inscription that reads “listen to the voice of freedom rising in our hearts.”
Clairin Vaval is produced by Fritz Vaval, the owner of the Arawaks distillery in Cavaillon and is bottled in partnership with Velier.
Made from a sugarcane varietal called Madame Meuze, the rhum is fermented for 3-5 days and after distillation, it’s sent to Port-au-Prince to be bottled at 51.1% ABV. Vaval is noteworthy for tasting of the sea, bright, bold and briny.
Looking for a drink that embodies all the best qualities of Haiti? You’ll find it in Clairin Communal, a blend of Vaval from Cavaillon, Casimir from Barraderes, Le Rocher from Pignon and Sajous from Saint Michel de l’Attalaye rolled into one awesome drink.
Bottled at 43%, Communal is produced without any herbicides or pesticides and fermented with natural yeasts. Check out this in-depth review from Galumbi for insight into how it tastes.