Clairin is a rhum agricole, a rum made from pure sugarcane juice (rather than molasses diluted in water, like rhum industriel). It is very common in Haiti, where it is considered “the rum of the people” and is closely linked to religious voodoo rituals and the popular sport of cockfighting.
Sugarcane juice has been distilled in the Caribbean for over 300 years. The sugarcane plantations used to be worked by slaves and the rum was exported as a precious commodity from the colonies. These days, while less than 50 distilleries are still active in the rest of the Caribbean, in Haiti alone over 500 small artisanal distilleries continue to operate. They stand out proudly in the countryside, easily identifiable by their smoking chimney. Haiti was the first colony where the slaves rebelled successfully, obtaining their freedom and independence for the country in 1804. Since then it has undergone a long period of isolation, which has helped it maintain its traditions, rituals and unique gastronomy.
The sugarcane, which for centuries has been the foundation of the country’s economy, is traditionally cultivated manually, without the use of chemicals, and grown intercropped with other crops like corn, manioc, banana and mango. Its production cycle lasts 18 months, and it is planted throughout the year so that there is always a harvest ready to be distilled. Once cut, the canes are transported on the backs of oxen or donkeys to the distillery, where they are processed the same day or the following morning at the latest. The canes are pressed and their juice is left to ferment naturally, without the use of any added starters, in wooden or metal vats. After a long fermentation (at least five days), the juice is distilled in copper alembics heated by burning bagasse, the dried sugarcane residue left after pressing the juice. A pure, transparent liquid comes out of the alembic at around 55% ABV (“still proof”), to be bottled and consumed without the addition of water.
The name clairin (kleren in Creole) comes from the crystalline color of the spirit, whose fragrance reflects all the aromatic characteristics of the local sugarcane varieties used to make it.
This project aims to safeguard the unique Haitian heritage of traditional clairin and the sugarcane growers and artisanal distillers, and to differentiate the authentic product from the industrial version. The aim is also to protect the Haitian agricultural system, still relatively uncontaminated by synthetic chemicals, and recognizing the clairin producers’ role as “defenders of the territory” whose production choices will have an influence on the future of Haiti.
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