The Clairin website is very informative but I’ll try to touch the main points here too.
Clairin, which is distributed by Velier, is rhum in, probably, its most simplistic form. I say “rhum” because Haiti was a French colony from 1625 until 1804 when they gained their independence, and Clairin is the rhum agricole, or cachaca* if you’d like, of Haiti. Now I say “simplistic” (not in a bad way) because of the way it’s made. Haiti is one of the poorest countries in the world and due to that almost everything is done by hand. From planting the sugarcane to the distillation everything is as simple as it can get. No pesticides, artificial fertilisers or gimmicks. The cane is usually planted along with other crops as well, the harvesting is done by hand and the transport to the distillery is done by donkeys or ox-drawn carts. The fermentation takes place using only the natural yeasts present in the cane juice. The wild fermentation can last anywhere from a few days to more than a week creating very pungent aromas that carry through the distillation. They usually use small pot stills over open fire for the distillation process.
The Clairin Communal is made in said small pot stills and it’s a blend of four rhums from four different producers: Sajous, Vaval, Casimir and Le Rocher. Unlike other Clairin bottles distributed by Velier, this one is at an approachable 43% ABV and it’s designed mainly for mixing – which I did, that’s why I don’t have much left.
On the nose the Communal is grassy like you would expect for an unaged “agricole” but a bit more raw, sour even. The obvious cane juice jumps out along with lime zest, salty boiled corn, almonds, notes of pickles/vinegar, baking yeast and a sharp aroma like stinky cheese (I know…). There’s also a sweetness to it, ripe bananas, bit of pineapple and a malty note like freshly baked bread or like an elegant moonshine even. Grassy, savoury and pungent would be the tags I would attach to this.
On the palate it’s not as pungent as suggested by the nose, it’s actually like a malt wine. Grassy vegetal notes kick in, I feel like I’m chewing grass and actually enjoying it. There are green olives, it really screams banana for me, the corn and lime zest make a comeback, white pepper and mixed herbs notes. There’s an almost minty aroma to it too, but I’d say “pine” would describe it better. It still surprises me how much body this has, it’s like a genever that was flavoured with some odd botanicals – I really want to chase it with a beer. The finish is sharp, fruity and peppery.
Clairin Communal doesn’t feel as raw as other Clairins that I’ve tasted (not many unfortunately). You can tell it has been tamed in order to make it work like a medium bodied mixing “white rum”. While I wouldn’t necessarily sit in front of a fire and drink this on its own, it actually works pretty well with a lager/pilsner on the side. If you’re a bartender like me and never tried any Clairins, this would be a very good and interesting start. Not a sipper for me but if you like your sugarcane juice juices and want a taste of the Haitian culture go for it!
Another serve I would recommend is a Paloma but replace the tequila for Clairin (Clairin, a squeeze of lime and topped up with grapefruit soda – Ting).
*No, I’m not saying rum/rhum is cachaca or otherwise, just from a “national spirit” side of things, although the flavours are similar too.
Clairin Communal score:
Value for money: 15/15