As you may already know thanks to my previous reviews (hampden, habitation velier, royal navy), I adore funky, in-your-face, “hogo” rums. There’s just something about smelling and tasting these types of rum that make me feel awake and tingly.
So, today I’ll be reviewing one of the better discoveries of the 21st century so far (really hoping the whole space exploration will rekindle, but this’ll do): Clairin, specifically the Sajous.
Clairin is the native spirit of Haiti, one of the poorest countries in the world and one that’s been hit with its fair share of misfortunes since its incredibly brave fight for independence, which gave the country its sovereignty on January 1st of 1804. Despite being poor and politically not the most stable country in the world, Haitians are apparently rather happy and Clairin might be a big influence on this happiness.
Despite being produced from fresh sugar cane juice or syrup, Clairin is not classified “Rhum Agricole” per se, it’s more comparable to the cachaca-to-rum relation. Technically it’s an Agricole, but then again it’s not. (if someone has a clear idea on the exact classification, please do contact me). The spirit is made from sugarcane juice, in its most natural form, the sugarcane is non-hybridized and mostly grown polycultural. This means that the canes aren’t grown to human specifications and the fields where the cane grows is also used for other naturally growing plants such as bananas, mangos,… (click here and here for more on the subject). Basically, the cane juice is grown in a pre-efficiency focused way. Without careful cross-breeding, segregated crops or chemicals; this puts the focus on the cane as a purely natural product and it adds another level of “terroir” in rum. Add to this natural, long fermentation and very rudimentary moonshine-like distillation rigs and you have a wonderfully artisanal spirit.
There are a couple of variations in the Clairins that are being bottled. The main bottles are: Sajous, Vaval, Casimir, Le Rocher and communal (which is a blend of some of the distilleries); all of these also have some aged variants. These 4 single rums are only a small sample of what Haiti has to offer. There are numerous tiny distilleries throughout the country.
But for today, I’ll just focus on the Sajous version. The ‘Sajous’ part in the name refers to the founder, owner and distiller of his distillery, named Chelo. the distillery is located in the middle of a sugar plantation, of which all the sugar is used for distilling this wonderful liquid. No, there’s no actual sugar being produced here, because who needs sugar production if you have rum, isn’t that right Worthy Park? The sugar cane juice is concentrated into a syrup which can be stored for over a year, making year-round distillation possible.
Clear as can be
The initial nose has a thick and buttery note, which quickly fades away form more grassy and vegetal notes. This fresh nose showcases the pure terroir way of production. Though it must be said that this freshness also comes with a rather sharp alcohol tone. With this sharpness comes some potent varnish, oily and brine-y hints.
The first couple of seconds of the first sip don’t reveal a lot of flavour due to an overwhelming alcoholic punch in the face, but after getting used to the sharpness of the alcoholic numbness some fresh herbal tones come popping up. Accompanying the herbal, grassy and hay-like notes is a more dirty character; one of oil, varnish and a bit of tar. The taste is all over the place, dragging me from open fields full of cane to a dirty building with a dismal safety and health protocol. The rum truly mimics its production from natural fields to fermentation and distillation in conditions that would make any whisky distiller cry and run away.
This powerful dram sticks around for a while, but not quite as long as one might expect. After the initial power of the actual sip, the might dwindles somewhat and leaves an impression of a meeker Agricole.
Clairin might be one of the last frontiers of rum in this world. Since its discovery a couple of years ago it’s gained more popularity, and rightly so. A natural and artisanal product like no other. Though I do believe that you have to be a true tough person to drink it neat on a regular basis, and Haitians definitely are, more so than I am (however hard I try).
For me this rum will serve better in a good ti punch or a feisty daiquiri. The aggressiveness of it can be overwhelming unless tempered by some lime, sugar and a bit of ice.