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  • Writer's pictureStuart Pearce

Vieux Sajous side-by-side review

Updated: Dec 17, 2023


Clairin (or Kleren) - the artisan sugar cane spirit of Haiti.

Made by over 500 tiny agricultural producers across the island, this unaged rum varies wildly in style and flavour. Up until 2012, it was solely a drink for locals - mostly unheard of away from Haiti. This all changed with the groundbreaking collaboration initiative from Velier - The Spirit of Haiti.


In its first years, The Spirit of Haiti was a co-bottling project with 3 family-run micro-distillers, designed to bring the flavours and experience of Clairin to new audiences across the globe. The first three selected were Vaval, Casimir, and Sajous. With an initial release of Clairin Sajous in 2012 and of all three in 2013.

The stable of distillers has subsequently been bolstered by the addition of Le Rocher and Sonson, the small annual releases of all 5 incredible rums are celebrated by the rum community. I did a monster unaged Clairin side-by-side back in 2021 (here).


Today we will be focussing on the delicious rums of Michel Sajous - many people's favorite of the lineup. This 3rd generation distiller of Distillery Chelo in the village of Saint Michel de L'Attalaye produces his rum from heritage crystalline cane that is hand-cut, crushed, and naturally wild fermented. (I highly recommend this 3 min overview video)


The fresh aromatic Clairin style rum is traditionally drunk unaged so it was with some trepidation that, in 2015, Velier began aging a proportion of the rums.


A selection of high-quality casks, with exceptional heritage (previously having been used to aged world-class spirits such as Caroni, Hampden Estate, Worthy Park, Bielle, Lustau sherry and Buffalo Trace bourbon), were shipped to Haiti, prepared, filled, and laid down to age in the tropical Haitian climate.

The first experience the rum world had of these aged Clairins was the series of young-aged single cask Clairin Ansyen releases. These were quite short-aged (initially just 1-3 years) and received mixed reviews - many felt that the brief aging had stifled the fresh, wild clairin profile without offering much in the way of improvement or benefit.* So I'm nervously excited about what these longer-aged Velier bottlings are going to offer.

[*an exception for me, of the few I tried, was an excellent Clairin Ansyen that was aged in an ex-Bielle cask]


Barrel aging is a very complex process. It is generally understood that time in a barrel can soften the spirit. And that it may impart flavours from the cask and its prior use. What is often overlooked is that barrel aging can also have a pronounced impact on the spirit through continued esterification. All the rums being reviewed today were fully aged in Haiti's tropical conditions, with the potential for significant impact, so let's put all expectations aside and dive into the rums with an open mind :-)


Five rums, 20ml of each, left to open up for 30 mins, all nosed first, then tasted.

With the abv's being pretty similar, I've chosen to taste these in the order of release (except the ex-sherry cask aged that I'm keeping to last). Assisted today by a great episode of Rumcast with top guest Chris Hassan Francke.

Left to right, as per the lead photo, in release order with the exception of the sherry cask aged on the right. The sherry cask predictably darker, the latest of the other four (less predictably) darker than the other three.



Velier Vieux Sajous, First Release, 2016, 4yr, 50.6%, 1200 btls?

The first Vieux Sajous, released in 2020. A blend of 12 barrels that had previously contained single malt or rum. bottled in 2020.


Nose: Cinnamon & apple sweets. Very fruity. Spicy honeyed ginger, A touch of pastry. Very pleasant and inviting.


Mouth: Honeyed fruit leads to bitter grapefruit skin and powdery spice, not bad but not working that well for me. Certainly not living up to the nose. A few sour pear sweets lead into a long lightly sour fruit finish. Not bad, just not wowing me. And the flavours aren't melding too well. Decent nose, let down on the palate. [82pts]








Velier Vieux Sajous, Second Release, 2017, 4yr, 56.3%, 1200 btls

As with the first release, this 2021 bottling is a blend of 12 barrels that had previously contained single malt or rum. Bottled in 2021.


Nose: Similar to 'release one' but lifted to the next level. Fresh, gluey esters, apple turnover, very hampden, a slightly grassier hampden. Makes the first release seem a little flat.


Mouth: More funky. More interesting. Vinegary tropical fruit leads the way and presents a consistent more coherent flavour profile. Fruity, oily with a touch of vanilla. No longer Sajous (unfortunately) but what we've got is unique and tasty too. Easily the funkiest most Hampden-esque of the lineup. Quite a sharp finish. Too sharp and sour. Pickled old fruit. Really fun stuff but not one I'd often reach for. [83-pts]





Velier Vieux Sajous, Caroni Cask, 2017, 5yr, 52.14%, 4700 btls

The 2022 release of Vieux Sajous was rather different being 100% aged in ex-Caroni casks for a full five years.


Nose: Dry. Moorish. Good depth. Less rich sweet vinegary fruit. Initially presents light 'friendly' Caroni notes. I'd like a bit more dirty diesel, but overall a very good, well-balanced, and inviting nose. The dryer earthier profile works well


Mouth: Spicy and oily. Still not quite dirty enough but drinks well. There's almost a warm-caramel mouthfeel. The sajous-ness provides a fruity, vinegary slap in the latter taste, which is exciting, albeit maybe not as exciting as the unaged. So (again) forget sajous and think light caroni & caramel biscuits with a fruity funky sharp jus. Again quite a sour finish but overall a more approachable rum. [84+pts]






Velier Vieux Sajous, LMDW, 2018, 5yr, 57.5%, 1800 btls?

The latest vieux sajous, released in 2023, sees a return to the blended barrel aging style of the first two releases. A blend of 18 barrels that had previously contained single malt or rum.


Nose: Very inviting. A middling profile between rums 2&3 (above). Fruity but not sticky sweet or overly vinegary. Better depth -inviting, slightly tannic, varnish. More complex and better balanced than the first two four-year aged blended barrel offerings.


Mouth: Rounded dark fruit with the fun of sajous. Not super wild but very tasty. Spicy, fruity and tannic. Sharp again but balanced, fuller, and more complex. Of the first four this is the only one I'd reach for often. Barrel choice and aging have finally worked well. Very good [87+pts]





Velier Vieux Sajous, Oloroso Cask, 2017, 4yr, 56.7%, 1200 btls

In 2021 we had 2 releases of Vieux Sajous. The 2nd of the standard bottlings and this one that was experimentally 100% aged in very fine ex-lustau oloroso sherry casks for 4 years.



Nose: Sherry forward (obviously!) with an earthy funk in the background. Not as complex or inviting as the previous one. But I love quality sherry cask aged rum so I'm happy with this.


Mouth: Tasty. Like a bag of sweets with dark fruit caramel sauce. There's even a little bit of Sajous late on the finish. Excellent sherry aged rum, and fun zesty sajous funk. Both are tasty in their own right, sadly they just don't fit together. Two genies in one bottle doesn't work. [84pts]





Conclusion

Has aging improved Sajous? No. Was it worth it? Absolutely.

Interesting and tasty new rums to be judged and enjoyed on their own merits. An easy win for the latest release (2018, 5yr, 57.5%) which I hope is a positive indication of things to come.


Coming soon...


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