[size=34]How Haiti is Making Some of the Best Rum on Earth[/size]
Rum culture may be a mainstay throughout the Caribbean, but one of the most overlooked countries in spirits, Haiti, is making a sugarcane spirit called clairin that's unlike any rum you’ve tasted until now.
BY TAMMIE TECLEMARIA
Workers with a finished bottle of Boukman Botanical Rhum, considered a clairin trempè / Photo by Ralph Thomassin JosephMany people still view rum through the lens of the dark, rich and sweet offerings of decades past. But clairin, a traditional rum made in Haiti, showcases the spirit in its most essential, and some say, finest form. And it’s finally making the leap to the United States.
A regional spirit unregulated in its home country, clairin occupies a distinct, terroir-driven space in the rum spectrum. It even stands apart from better-known sugarcane distillates like rhum agricole or Brazilian cachaça.
Rum’s place in Caribbean culture is well known, but little is said about Haitian bottlings, despite the country housing more than 500 local distilleries—arguably more than any other country in the region. This booming DIY distilling scene makes Haiti home to some of the most diverse rum production in the world.
Top: Exterior of a gildive, or local distillery, in Haiti / Bottom: Interior production still / Photo by Ralph Thomassin Joseph
These hundreds of distilleries are called guildive
in Haiti’s native Creole language.
It’s a French adaptation of “kill-devil,” an early colonial slang for rum. Guildives are small, rustic and run without electricity producing enough rum to serve their immediate village and not much more.
“The person with the most money in the neighborhood [owns] the guildive, producing clairin with a donkey pressing the cane juice that goes into wild fermentation,” says Garcelle Menos, an account manager for spiced-clairin brand Boukman.
“Most of the time, they’re a combination of column and pot stills, very small columns and very small
Carting sugarcane the old-fashioned way in Haiti / Photo by Ralph Thomassin Joseph
To make clairin, sugarcane is hand-harvested and carted by animals to the press.
The resulting juice is moved to tanks where it ferments spontaneously.
While there is no certification, clairin is largely organic simply because there is no industrialized farming or
pesticides used in these remote villages. Low-yield varieties of sugarcane like crystalline and Madame Meuze,
long ignored by industrial producers, are still planted and favored by local distillers for their concentrated
- Citation :
“Most upper-class people don’t view it as something to cherish. [But] clairin is Haiti’s gold. Haiti is the lost world of rum.” —Garcelle Menos, Boukman Rhum
Natural inoculation of wild yeast from the plant requires longer fermentation than laboratory strains.
This extra time allows the mash to develop complex flavors that guarantee no two batches of clairin taste the same, much like how wine differs from vintage to vintage.
Unlike many spirits, the fermented juice is distilled just once, retaining flavors that would be lost with
further refinement. And in contrast to many others rums, finished clairin is not aged before being sold.