Clairin 2018 Trio: Vaval, Sajous, and Sonson

As I promised in my clairin ansyen reviews, I’m finally reviewing a few of the unaged clairins from Spirit of Haiti. Purely by coincidence, the three I currently possess were made from 2018 cane harvests, but let’s all pretend I carefully coordinated this 2018 theme from the outset.

These reviews will scarcely add anything new to the conversation on clairin. They exist solely to repeat the theme sung by many reviewers before me: these are fantastic, and you should probably buy them.

Clairin Vaval (2018)

Fritz Vaval and his family have been making clairin at Distillerie Arawaks in Cavaillon since 1947. This batch, made from fresh Madame Meuze cane juice, was distilled in a pot still built by Fritz himself and bottled at 48.7%.

The nose is full of olives, dill pickles, algae, mint, fennel, basil, Sichuan peppercorns, and a tiny bit of smoke.

On the palate, I get more green olives and herbs, then candied citrus peel, celery, and raw sweet potato. It’s briny, sour, and a little sweet, making me wonder if those pickles are actually bread and butter.

This is like mowing the lawn and accidentally running over your entire herb and vegetable garden while your neighbor smokes a brisket four doors down. So yeah, I like it. (7/10)

Clairin Sajous (2018)

Michel Sajous is a third generation clairin producer in Saint-Michel-de-l’Attalaye. He established Distillerie Chelo in 2004 on his family’s land, where he produces clairin from fresh Cristalline cane juice. This expression was bottled at 56.5%.

On the nose, I get orange and lime peel, Emergen-C (the orange flavored powdered drink mix), geosmin, basil, green cardamom pods, bell peppers, and olives.

The palate is somewhat fruity by clairin standards, featuring notes of lime peel, raspberries, ripe banana, and artificial orange flavoring. Among the less fruity notes are green cardamom pods, bell peppers, and olives.

Sajous tends to appear toward the top of many clairin rankings, and I can see why. I have enjoyed my bottle very much, and I’ve found that I get the most out of it when I add a little water; it does have the highest proof of any Spirit of Haiti clairin, after all. (7/10)

Clairin Sonson (2018)

Though it is the most recent clairin to arrive in the United States, Sonson hails from the oldest distillery in this trio. Distillerie Clairin Sonson Pierre Gilles, located in Cabaret, was founded in 1932 by the father of its current master distiller, Stephan Kalil Saoud. Like Vaval, Sonson uses Madame Meuze cane but boils it down to a syrup before distillation. This batch, made in the pot still built by Saoud’s father, came out at 53.2%.

The nose is much more savory than the other two. I get a hot supreme pizza, dijon mustard-based barbecue sauce, capers, tahini, rotten banana, underripe mango, freshly cut grass, and Swiss chard.

On the palate, there’s tomato sauce, Italian sausage with fennel seeds, olives, schmaltz, lemon-lime soda, sour Greek yogurt, bread and butter pickles, and green cardamom pods. It’s briny, savory, and just a little fruity.

There is certainly a through-line with each of these, but I’m blown away by how different they are from each other, especially the Sonson. I can’t honestly say I strongly prefer one over the other here, but if I had to rank all of the Velier-imported clairins, I think Sonson would be in the upper half of the list. (7/10)