Clairin (Kleren) is a cane brandy fromHaiti (Ayiti). Its production methods are extremely artisanal and remain unchanged from the early days of tafia and guildive. This type of rum dominated the world in the 18th century, when Santo Domingo was the main producer in the Caribbean. After Haiti gained independence in 1804, other producing countries evolved, refining their methods and yields, shortening fermentations and adopting increasingly efficient distillation columns. But the small-scale producers of clairin have not changed their traditions, and more than 500 of them are still making it today.
Clairin was the drink of the poor, and remains a very popular alcohol. It is consumed for a variety of purposes, from medicinal to voodoo. The most traditional clairins come from almost primitive distilleries, whose simplicity has a great charm. Larger distillers run slightly more modern facilities, with Creole columns. A handful of brands produce more industrial clairins, with large distillation columns.
Usually sold in bulk, it is distributed locally in cans and shared in small village grocery shops. The first bottling of clairin and the first import into Europe took place in 2012. It was the importer Velier, through Luca Gargano, who discovered this exceptional spirit and decided to introduce it to the world.
A local product
The sugar cane comes from small planters located all around the country. They can be found around Cul-De-Sac, near Port-au-Price, north of Cap Haïtien, in Léogâne, on the Saint-Michel-de-l'Attalaye plateau, in the Baradères region, on the Cavaillon plain and in the Jérémie region.
Although it does not have any organic label, the cane is cultivated according to its principles. The land is prepared with ploughs pulled by oxen. After being cut into 40-50 cm long sections, the cane is buried under 15 cm of soil. Manure is then spread to fertilise it. Manual weeding takes place 2 to 3 times during the season, depending on the weather. The cane is then left to grow and mature quietly for 18 months before being harvested.
It goes without saying that no chemical inputs (pesticides or artificial fertilisers) are used here. The sugar cane is planted in polyculture, in association with other plantations such as bananas or mangoes. Harvesting is also done by hand, with a cutlass. The sugar cane is then transported to the distillery with the help of carts pulled by oxen or mules.
The cane varieties are diverse, and sometimes very old. In Saint-Michel-de-l'Attalaye, there are the varieties Farine France, Hasco, Petekoka and the rare Cristalline (not hybrid), a noble cane of pure saccharum officinarum origin. In Léogâne and Cavaillon, Madame Meuze is the dominant variety. On the Central Plateau, Toro and Dakoun are more common. There are also other varieties with names as picturesque as ever, such as Saint à clou, Colembator, Pasterie, Créole and Poule poule.
The production of clairin
Clairin is made from pure cane juice or syrup. Fermentation is spontaneous and takes place in wooden barrels (called "chais" locally). Traditionally, the juice is not diluted, and the syrup is sometimes topped up with vinasse. This fermentation lasts at least 120 hours, and is followed by distillation in a still or column with a maximum of 5 or 6 trays. Heating by direct fire is preferred in most cases.
Before bottling, traditional clairin is not filtered and is bottled at the natural degree of alcohol at the end of the still, which is generally around 55%.
The distilleries which use Creole columns produce Clairins which are rather close to 70 or 80%. They then gradually reduce them to 55%, to obtain the famous Clairin 22. This local name refers to the alcohol measurement scale established by Cartier, where 22° corresponds to 55% alcohol on the Gay Lussac scale. Clairins 21, 20, or even 18 can also be found.
The Clairin distilleries
In France, at the time of writing (early 2021), we have been able to discover 4 clairins imported by Velier.
Owner: Casimir Faubert. Date of creation: 1980. Location: Baradères.
The distillery grows 50 hectares of white and red Hawaiian cane. These varieties are similar to the O Tahiti, once popular in the Caribbean and now revived in French Polynesia.
This clairin has the particularity of being enhanced with sorrel leaves, lemongrass, cinnamon and sometimes ginger during the fermentation of the cane juice.
Owner: Fritz Vaval. Date of creation: 1946. Location: Cavaillon
20 hectares of Madame Meuze cane are grown to produce this clairin. It is distilled in a traditional still, which operates in cycles of 10 to 13 hours. Only 2 distillations per day are therefore carried out.
Owner: Michel Sajous middle. Date of creation: middle of the 20th century. Location: Saint-Michel-de-l'Attalaye.
The plantation covers 30 hectares and grows crystalline cane. The cane juice is boiled into syrup, naturally fermented, and then distilled in a small still with a 6 tray column. The clairin is distilled to 50 / 52%.
Owner: Bethel Romulus. Location: village of Pignon.
Le Rocher clairin is produced using very old methods. A cane syrup is made so that it can be preserved and distilled throughout the year. For the fermentation, about 30% of vinasse is added, in the manner of the grand aroma rums or the Jamaican high esters.
The other clarifiers
After making his first limited edition clairin blends for the World Clairin Championships (cocktail competitions organised to promote clairin), Luca Gargano has created a permanent reference, called Clairin Communal. It is a blend of the 4 clairins mentioned above.
Ageing experiments have also been carried out, with different types of casks, in the Ansyen Clairins range. Finally, the Boukman brand offers a "Kleren Tranpé", a "botanical rum" which is in fact a kind of arranged clairin. There are many soaked clairins in Haiti. They are part of popular culture and come in a variety of recipes, for a wide range of uses. Read less