A special Haitian treat like this calls for a very special Haitian rhum. Something raw, 100% kreyol to the core, with all the strength, vigor, and character of this amazing country. I’m talking, of course, about Clairin.
Unique to Haiti in every way, Clairin is the people’s drink – a potent bush rum of varied strengths and colors produced from pure sugar cane in the rhum agricole style consistent throughout the French islands. Rarely aged or filtered in the manner that produces the finer rums and rhums of the world, Clairin makes no apologies for whatever shortcomings you may think it has. Like Haiti herself, it is quite comfortable and accommodating for those adventurous enough to try a taste, thank you very much.
That’s certainly how I felt about Clairin when I I tried it for the first time in the tiny and historic town of Milot in Northern Haiti. This is where you’ll find the incredible ruins of the famed Sans-Souci Palace. It’s also the jumping off point to trek the 3,000 feet up the Bonnet a L’Eveque mountain to The Citadelle Laferrière.
I got to see and experience it all just a few weeks ago. After all that adventuring I wanted a shot of something strong to celebrate. Luckily our guide came from a family that has been making Clairin for more than 200 years!
I’d heard of Clairin before, particularly its use in Vodou ceremonies, and was more than a bit anxious to try. As noted earlier, Clairin comes in a wide range of strengths. Because it’s homemade, comes in re-purposed bottles often sporting homemade labels, and is absolutely unregulated, it’s hard to tell what you’re getting until it’s inside you.
The strongest version – Vingdt Deux, Vingdt Deux – is what I wanted (If you’re gonna’ try it, might as well go for the full gusto, right?!), but there wasn’t any around. Our guide assured me, though, that I would not be disappointed…
Whatever we have is really strong enough to turn you upside down.
I expected something ultra-harsh, bordering on kerosene. Something I could barely stand to smell, much less gulp down. Something that would leave me looking like this poor, lost soul…
I was wrong. On all counts.
The Clairin pictured above was soft on the nose, smooth down my throat and surprisingly easy-drinking. So easy-drinking, in fact, that between myself and two other traveling companions, we finished off the whole bottle that same afternoon!
Clearly, this was no Vingdt Deux, Vingdt Deux (more on that stuff another day), but it was plenty pleasing and nice; a pure taste of the real Haiti.
Cheap and readily available, Clairin can be found quite easily all over Haiti… and hopefully tonight at the RAM show in Miami!
À votre santé!