Many 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\u2019s finally making the leap to the United States.\r\n\r\nA 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 cacha\u00e7a.\r\n\r\nRum\u2019s place in Caribbean culture is well known, but little is said about Haitian bottlings, despite the country housing more than 500 local distilleries\u2014arguably 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.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThese hundreds of distilleries are called guildive in Haiti\u2019s native Creole. It\u2019s a French adaptation of \u201ckill-devil,\u201d 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.\r\n\r\n\u201cThe person with the most money in the neighborhood [often owns] the guildive, producing clairin with a donkey pressing the cane juice that goes into wild fermentation,\u201d says Garcelle Menos, account manager for spiced-clairin brand Boukman. \u201cMost of the time, they\u2019re a combination of column and pot stills, very small columns and very small pots.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nTo make clairin, sugarcane is hand-harvested and carted, often by animals, to the press. The resulting juice is moved to tanks where it ferments spontaneously, though some distillers are known to add baker's yeast to help jump-start the process.\r\n\r\nWhile 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 flavor.\r\n\r\n\u201cMost upper-class people don\u2019t view it as something to cherish. [But] clairin is Haiti\u2019s gold. Haiti is the lost world of rum.\u201d \u2014Garcelle Menos, Boukman Rhum\r\n\r\n\r\nNatural 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.\r\n\r\nUnlike 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.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nYou might be familiar with Rhum Barbancourt, Haiti\u2019s most famous liquor export. Also made from sugarcane, Barbancourt\u2019s aged expressions fetch a premium in foreign markets, though even the distillery\u2019s unaged rum remains unaffordable for most Haitians. Clairin is a significantly cheaper option and sold throughout the country, usually dispensed out of large plastic jugs at the market.\r\n\r\nAccording to Menos, \u201cMost upper-class people don\u2019t view it as something to cherish. [But] clairin is Haiti\u2019s gold. Haiti is the lost world of rum.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nIt\u2019s worth noting that in the world of unlicensed distillers, the outlook isn\u2019t all is rosy. Unlike commercial bottlings sold by regulated producers, raw material varies between clairin distillers, as does the quality of the spirit in kind. Bad clairin can simply lack character, though in extreme scenarios, if poorly made, could contain poisonous levels of methanol.\r\n\r\nFor prospective distributors looking to make the leap, this means they must evaluate both for taste, as well as analyzing the composition to make sure product is safe for consumption.\r\n\r\nVelier, in partnership with La Maison du Whisky, is the first company to make clairin available outside of Haiti and market it as a new spirits category. Helmed by Luca Gargano since the early 1980s, the Italian company is known to collectors for bottling and distributing some of the world\u2019s rarest casks of aged spirits.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nGargano\u2019s partner in the acquisition of sugarcane spirits is Dan Biondi. The two visited Haiti for several years, as they sampled clairin from villages throughout the country. Biondi says, as rum obsessives, they love the challenge of launching something new.\r\n\r\n\u201c[It\u2019s] an opportunity for all consumers to taste the heritage of the history of rum, completely natural and with new, unexpected flavors,\u201d Biondi says.\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nThrough their relationships with producers, the pair hope to bring clairin\u2019s unique diversity to prominence, evidenced by packaging that lists each distiller\u2019s name, village, sugarcane variety and vintage. It\u2019s comparable how most high-quality mezcals are sold, which highlight a particular artisan from a specific place.\r\n\r\nIt also requires extensive consumer education. \u201cWe traveled the world talking about clairin and we will continue to do it, because this spirit is too important in the heritage of rum and we will work hard to preserve it,\u201d says Biondi.\r\n\r\nThe diversity of the spirit is astounding, given the relatively limited area in which it is produced...it says so much about the place where it is produced and the people behind it.\u201d \u2014Shannon Mustipher, Glady\u2019s, Brooklyn, New York\r\n\r\nThe comparison to mezcal extends to tasting clairin. That\u2019s one way that Shannon Mustipher, head bartender/beverage director at Glady\u2019s in Brooklyn, New York, first related to it.\r\n\r\n\u201cI drank some [clairin] off the still and became an instant fan,\u201d says Mustipher. \u201cI'd visited a palenque in Mexico a few years before that and had a similar experience drinking mezcal. The diversity of the spirit is astounding, given the relatively limited area in which it is produced. And like mezcal, it says so much about the place where it is produced and the people behind it.\u201d\r\n\r\n\r\n\r\nSam Johnson, who mixes drinks at two of New York City\u2019s most venerable cocktail bars, Death & Co and Clover Club, considers clairin to be the best sugarcane rum for cocktails.\r\n\r\n\u201cA bartender will benefit from all of the green herb and mineral qualities that she or he has come to expect in an agricole, with more intense aromatics and a rounder, toasted sugar note on the palate,\u201d says Johnson. \u201cClairin is an easy substitution for white rum and an interesting one for gin.\u201d\r\n\r\nRum is defined as a distillate made from sugarcane. It can come from anywhere in the world, and there\u2019s no limit to barrel treatments, age, flavoring or other enhancements. Clairin, by contrast, is rum in one of its purest expressions. It\u2019s worth the effort to seek out.