Clairin brings up strong feelings among rum drinkers – is this traditional Haitian spirit a rum or not?
We’d like turn to agreed upon regulations for rum – but each country has it’s own rules. The best we can do is consider the general definitions for rum found in most nations, and which are promoted by most distilleries. A quick summary of those
- Must be made from: molasses, fresh sugarcane juice, sugar cane syrup, other sugar cane products, as allowed by local regulations.
- fermented with yeast
- Unlike whiskey, aging in wood is optional for rum.
- have “the taste, aroma and characteristics generally attributed to rum” and bottled at not less than 40% ABV.
And indeed, Clairin fits all of these just as well as the rums of any other nation. Why then does it have a different name? Many products have a geographical indicator, or GI. The French name for geographical indicators is Appellation d’Origine Contrôlée, AOC. Other countries have their own legally protected names for products. Examples include
- America: bourbon whiskey, a type of corn whiskey aged in new oak barrels.
- France: Cognac, Armagnac, Calvados, Champagne, Roquefort cheese, and many others.
- Martinique (French) AOC for rhums made on the island of Martinique
- Brazil: Cachaça
A geographical indicator doesn’t change what something is (bourbon is whiskey; Cachaça is rum; Cognac is brandy.)
How do other people define Clairin?
This is a perspective from The West Indies Rum and Spirits Producers’ Association Inc. (WIRSPA)
There are also spirits which, though rum by definition, are described as sugar cane spirits or by other synonyms. For example, ‘cachaça’ the national spirit of Brazil, is distilled from fermented sugar cane juice and you’ll discover a number of ‘aguardiente de cañas’ produced locally across South America. However, if the product is fermented from sugar cane juice, syrup or molasses and distilled below 96% alcohol it is rum, pure and simple.
Here’s a great article Main Differences Between Artisanal and Industrial Cachaça
“Clairin is a spirit distilled from sugar cane juice rather than molasses. It is technically very similar to rhum agricole. Due to the relatively lo-fi nature of the distilleries and their traditional methods clairin is much less refined and more “raw” than most rhum agricole. It is very cheap on the domestic market and is often drank as the cheaper alternative to white rum”
Some technical books on rum describe clairin as rum – “What they produced however wasn’t rum, or rhum. It was clairin. Clairin is to rum what mezcal is to tequila and should be approached in the same way.”
The Oxford Handbook of Food fermentation also describes it as rum. The Oxford Handbook of Food Fermentations