The Big Clairin Tasting
Updated: Dec 29, 2022
Clairin - a funky, full flavoured style of rum made in Haiti, generally from fresh crushed cane juice. These spirits are made in tiny quantities by expert artisan producers. Very special (I would even say exciting) juice with a unique flavour profile. There are hundreds of Clairin 'micro-distillers' in Haiti, each with a quite distinct product, often family secret rum styles - the result of generations of learning & perfecting. Today I'm tasting and reviewing the eight unaged varietals available in the UK, plus a wildcard sample from the US.
Nine is definitely risking palate fatigue, even taken slowly over the couple of hours we've set aside for this. The efforts we go to in the name of science 😂. Anyway, I believe it's doable so let's dive in....
As most of these are made in batches of just a few hundred bottles, it's worth pointing out that one 'vintage' can be quite different to another.
15ml of each. Allowed 20mins to breath. Tasted in increasing abv order. Thoughts and scores as follows:
Clairin Communal, £35, 43%
A blend of Vaval, Sajous, Casimir & Le Rocher, presented at a lower abv.
Nose: A slight hint of banana quickly gives way to a swathe of earthy rotting veg smells and a big hit of plastic. It's an interesting, complex nose. There's even passing notes of marmite.
Mouth: The blend of rums rewards with a complex taste, unfortunately it's just a bit thin - especially when compared to it's brothers and sisters. A reasonable finish starting with banana & cane and ending with a taste similar to 7up. [79pts]
Clairin Le Rocher, £53, 46.5%
Bethel Romulus of Pignon takes the different approach of turning his cane juice to a syrup prior to fermentation. As with all these rums, a totally natural product with no added rubbish. Produced using a non-continuous pot still
Nose: Wow - that's really unusual. Green leafy vegetables, loads and loads of plastic (yep, weird, but good), meat, maybe bacon and salt.
Mouth: An equally unusual taste, toffee, newspaper (I've never tasted The Sunday Times but I swear this is what it would taste like) and loads more of that sweet plastic. No fruit in this one, which initially makes it seem very dry. Long finish. [update: the weirdness in this rum has grown on me and it makes a spanking daiquiri - score updated by 2pts Dec22] [83 pts]
Clairin Vaval, £53, 48.8%
This incredible rum is the outturn of a home made still, constructed generations back with leather plates in the column, and a condenser made from an old gas can. Fritz Vaval's family have been making this rum since 1947 using cane from the family's 20 hectare plot. They use the indigenous cane - Madame Meuze.
Nose: Again, incredibly different. It's really impressing me how, just within this tiny niche corner of the rum world there can be such incredible variety. This has a really sweet peppermint nose. Some soap. Grassy cane notes. Very zesty - load more of that peppermint and a little lemon.
Mouth: Ooo yum. Peppermint, cane juice, herbaceous, sweet sugar-water, a tiny bit of basil - maybe thai basil with lots of anise. And definitely soda water. Too much peppermint for me this time. [82pts - nb: I scored 2018 Vaval a massive 88pts. Very different vintages!]
Saint Benevolence, £43, 50%
The new kid on the block, this rum was only released in the UK about a month ago. Made using a blend of three different hand harvested local canes grown in the area of Saint Michel.
Nose: A savoury earthy nose with some burnt toast, a dollop of butterscotch, a good sprinkle of sea salt and lashings of slightly off Reisling.
Mouth: The most drinkable so far. 15ml didn't last long. A tasty dry dram with a long taste that I can only describe as old socks with a layer of lemon curd! A little lemon, lots of curd. [84pts]
I'm doing the tasting outside and even out in the fresh air, the smells from the line of glasses in front of me are massive and magical
Clairin Sonson, £50, 53.2%
The 5th and latest addition to Velier's very solid line of Clairins. This is made by Stephan Kalil Souad in the village of Cabaret using a traditional open fired pot still. Stephan also grows and produces his rum from a fantastic local cane called Madame Meuze.
Nose: Absolutely delightful. Loads of fruit - rhubarb - with some spearmint. Yet grounded with a baseline of earthy notes. Complex and delicious.
Mouth: Vegetal, Salty, Savoury . Treacle. Overripe cherries. Loads of the rhubarb from the nose. A very clever, complex and delicious rum. And a great addition to the lineup. [89pts]
Clairin Casimir, £55, 53.2%
Named after second generation distiller Faubert Casimir, it's made in Baraderes. He uses Hawaian white and red cane and adds some spices and vegetal leaves to the ferment for additional natural yeast.
Nose: Kerpow! Floral and fruity. A little banana, with a dusting of cinnamon. Slight petrol hint. Lots of bitter strawberries. Complex & inviting.
Mouth: I love this rum, It tastes dirty and moorish. Cinnamon milk toffee. [87pts]
Clairin Milot, £30(in USA), 55%
Not currently available in the UK I was lucky enough to get a sample of this from a good rum friend. I understand it is produced at the Distillerie Patrick St. Surin just south of Cap-Haitien.
Nose: Toast. Earthy. Woodsmoke. Good but a step down from the last two.
Mouth: A little less complex than the last two Velier rums. Slight burned taste, but sweet, like burned toffee. Some milk. A long tasty finish. [85pts]
Clairn Sajous, £53, 55.9%
The legend that is Michel Sajous grow the rare Crystalline cane for the rum on his 30 hectare plantation. He employs a super long fermentation from 7-10days! Rewarding us with those big funky flavours.
Nose: Oh yes, here we go. Such an exciting nose. Loads of lovely esters. Funky. Fruity. And a definite smell of buttered hot cross buns!
Mouth: A regular favourite for me. I've often put this is in my line-up for most important rums in the world. It's delicious - a funk party in your mouth. Today I'm getting a splash of balsamic vinegar. [89pts ... NB: I've given a different batch of Sajous 90pts previously, so maybe not the very best release, but outstanding for sure]
Providence 'Fist Drops', £50, 57%
The first release from a brand new distillery. A collaboration between some pretty big names in the rum world. A pot stilled rum made using Michel Sajous' Crystalline cane. Super long 10-12 day fermentation. A truly stunning first release leaving me very excited to try their second - that I understand is being made with the use of dunder for even more funk!
Nose: Wow - so sweet! Candyfloss - seriously smells of candyfloss. And rotten fruit, maybe durian. A load of old style sweets - cola cubes, cough candy, pear drops. Yum!
Mouth: Another rum I'd definitely describe as dirty. In a really good way. Loads of mango. And 'refreshers' (a sweet from the 90s). Stunning! Superb quality first release from this new distillery. [88pts]
Phew - that's a lot of Clairin. A really big tasting. So enjoyable and interesting. What an incredible variety in just this one specific style of rum. Reminds me why I'm so obsessed \;-) Get out and buy some, a super exciting category. I'm looking forward to playing with these flavours in a few new cocktails.