Triple “A” Clairin protocol
For agricole rum, which is called Clairin in Haiti, to obtain a “Triple A” designation, it must be produced respecting the rules of the following protocol:
- The varieties of sugar cane must be native and preferably un-hybridised.
- The cultivation of sugar cane must be organic; it must follow traditional production techniques, without the use of synthetic chemicals (herbicides, fertilisers, fungicides etc.).
- Harvesting must be done exclusively by hand.
- Transportation of sugar cane from the fields to the distillery must be done by animals.
- The fermentation of sugar cane juice must take place solely through the use of natural yeast, without the addition of industrial yeast and without diluting with water.
- The fermentation should last at least 120 hours.
- The distillation takes place within a maximum of 5 stills with copper plates in direct contact with the flame.
- The spirit must be bottled at as soon as it comes out of the still can.
- Bottling must take place in Haiti.
“TRIPLE A” CLAIRIN
Today there are fewer than forty running distilleries throughout the Caribbean, while in Haiti there are still 531. They are small, craft distilleries, some tiny, scattered over one area of the Caribbean. Clairin plays an important role in Haitian culture and it is an essential part of daily life in Haiti, from social functions to voodoo rites. This is the rum of the people, produced using a variety of native sugar cane grown in a mixture with many other plants, without the use of herbicides or pesticides. Once it reaches the right maturity, the sugar cane is cut exclusively by hand and transported with the help of ox carts or donkeys to the distillery it pressing and fermentation. Fermentation takes place in containers (futs) that are tapered pieces of wood, which in Haiti are called ‘chais’. Not having used any chemicals in agriculture means fermentation can take place with natural yeasts present in the cane juice. These are wild fermentations, which last from four to eight days, creating extraordinary musts from an aromatic point of view, that clearly express the diversity of the territory of origin and the different varieties of cane. It is truly a privilege to be able to smell these musts so different from one another.
The organic production process does not stop in the fields, but continues in the distilleries that need to be described to avoid creating false illusions. They are often in the middle of the sugar cane fields, a canopy covering the boiler, the still and fermentation vats that are usually made of oak or mango and a small mill where the cane is pressed. They are therefore extremely basic distilleries, we might say primitive, but beautiful in their simplicity. And then there are the stills. Most are columns of créole type, with a maximum of six trays, operating in continuous distillation and that produce alcohol between 70% and 80% in volume. The reduction typically leads the Clairin to full strength of 55% alcohol, which is called Clairin 22.
THE WORDING CLAIRIN 22
It was a matter of conjecture of all types to understand its meaning. The explanation lies in the alcohol meters used in Haiti that included not only the Gay Lussac scale, which measures the percentage of alcohol from 0% to 100%, but the Cartier scale as well, now fallen into disuse in the rest of the world, which expresses the degree of alcohol of a liquid from 10 to 44 degrees, and so 22 degrees Cartier correspond to 55% Gay Lussac; Clairin 21, Clairin 20 and Clairin 18, which corresponds to 42% volume are also produced. Most Clairins are not bottled. The larger distilleries, such as Nazon, Vales and Audin, sell quantities in large bulk, while smaller distilleries sell in 55-gallon drums to retailers. We live in a pre ‘packaging’ world, where consumers go to the store with containers, also in order to save money. And you do not challenge such a simple and efficient system. Now the surprise of discovering a face so archaic and natural is not to suggest that all Clairins are special. Indeed, there are many absolutely poisonous and impossible to taste. On the other hand, however, several manufacturers who are genuine artisans are able to produce a typical Clairin with scents and complexity of taste that can perhaps only be compared to the Del Maguey single village Mezcal by Ron Cooper.