Origin: Distillerie Chelo, Saint-Michel-de-l’Attalaye, Artibonite, Haiti
Finish: Neutral vessel
Similar to Brazil's cachaça, clairin is a distilled spirit created from sugarcane juice in Haiti, but is not identified as rum. According to the clairin Wikipedia page, there are an estimated 500-600 artisinal clairin distilleries in Haiti, which produce in low quantities for their neighbors.
Because clairin is so localized to where it is distilled, not many non-Haitians have historically tried it. In 2012, The Spirit of Haiti was founded as an export company, and works to bring the terroir-driven spirit to those outside of Haiti. The company works with 5 producers– Michel Sajous, Fritz Vaval, Faubert Casimir, Bethel Romelus and Stephan Kalil Saoud– to bring their unique expressions to world markets in the form of the single estate clairin line.
Production of clairin may vary, but The Spirit of Haiti producers have agreed to guidelines on production, including using truly organically-derived sugarcane varieties, hand harvesting of sugarcane and transportation by livestock to the distillery, usage of either sugarcane juice or syrup– or a combination of both, natural and wild fermentation, and finally, distillation using pot stills.
Today we're looking at Clairin Sajous, which was produced by Michel Sajous at Distillerie Chelo in Saint-Michel-de-l’Attalaye. Similar to Providence Haitian Rum Blanc, Sajous uses the Crystalline cane varietal, which he presses into sugarcane juice before fermenting and finally pot distillation. This bottling of clairin is unaged, though some aged expressions of clairin have started popping up in different markets.
Clear, high clarity, low viscosity
Pineapple rind, white wine vinegar, green apples, sugarcane, bubblegum, a wisp of smoke
Sugarcane, mint, pineapple rind, green bell peppers, bubblegum, fresh tar
Long, spicy, juicy, warming; serrano peppers, sugarcane, olive brine, black licorice
In the wide world of unaged sugarcane byproduct spirits, the variety is seemingly endless. You could get bombarded by a funk monster that sits at the legally acceptable range of esters, mistake your dram for a vodka due to the neutrality, or further still be overwhelmed by the earthy, briny characteristics of an unaged spirit. Clairin Sajous fits into that last category.
In my glass, Sajous is clear, with high clarity and low viscosity.
On the nose, I immediately get a note of pineapple rind, followed by white wine vinegar and green apples. Of course, sugarcane makes an appearance, as does a "classic" bubblegum aroma. As the nose trails off, I get just a hint of smoke at the end. This is a nice nose and fairly similar to what I'd expect from an unaged agricole.
The palate offers sugarcane and mint on the front, followed by pineapple rind and green bell peppers. This is really an assault on the tastebuds, but in a good way: everything sort of arrives at the same time, making it a bit difficult to parse individual flavors. The classic bubblegum note is present here as well, as is something reminiscent of freshly-laid tar. A really nice, powerful, yet enjoyable palate.
The long finish is spicy, fruity, and very warming. I get notes of serrano peppers, sugarcane, olive brine, and black licorice. This is not overbearing, and ever-so-gently descends into a bitter aftertaste, which prompts the imbiber to have another sip to stave off further bitterness.
Clairin Sajous may be my first clairin, but it certainly won't be my last. It has some great flavors that highlight the terroir of Michel's lands, and does offer some differentiation from the next closest subcategory of rum– rhum agricole. That said, it may be the best way to start your clairin journey, as some other releases from Spirit of Haiti have been regarded as difficult to approach (looking at you, Le Rocher). Sajous is not for the faint of heart, but for lovers of funk and earthy rums, this may be right up your alley.