Clairin Sonson, 2018, Sonson Pierre-Gilles Distillery, Cabaret, Haiti, 53.2% ABV, La Maison & Velier
The fifth and latest instalment, the Sonson, was released in 2021, having more in common with its predecessor, Le Rocher, than the original trio – not only is it not produced by anyone named Sonson (not even middle names), but like the Le Rocher, it is produced using cane syrup.
Sonson originates from the Cabaret village north-west of Port-au-Prince, and is produced by Stephan Kalil Saoud, a third-generation Clairin maker at the Sonson distillery, using the Madame Meuze varietal of sugarcanes. Just as its cousins of the same range, and Clairins more broadly, it is wild fermented. The syrup is then carried out in a single pot still and distilled over an open fire. There’s a fair bit written on the provenance of the Sonson distillery, but I’ll leave you to read about it on your own.
(Image Source: The Whisky Exchange)
Color: Clearer than clear. Colorless spirit.
On the nose, a very synthetic propane opening along with the classic new make cut grass, followed by more interesting flavors ranging from Clamato to unsweetened Greek yoghurt. (Image Source: Encyclopedia Brittanica, Live Science, Desert Cart, Spoon University.)
Nose: Bunsen burner gas, propane; very bright and rambunctious but also very grassy and vegetal. Simultaneously very much bigger on the synthetic and grassy new make profile. Freshly cut grass, Clamato (something so oddly specific that a relative took away from her summer school in Canada and I tried once), tart unsweetened Greek yoghurt.
The nose continues on with a more Mexican touch - lime zest, chilli flakes, minerality and sour cream. (Image Source: Fine Dining Lovers, Anthony The Spice Maker, 123RF, Preppy Kitchen)
Squeeze of lime, chili flakes, a chalky minerality that is flint-like and some sour cream. Lots going on, but it’s all very discordant, like a punk rock band where everyone’s playing a different score.
On the tongue, a more delicate mix of pandan touches, chilli flakes from the nose, flaky sea salt and...smoke? Can Clairin be peated? (Image Source: Healthline, Anthony the Spice Maker, Fine Dining Lovers, Bring Me The News)
Palate: Creamy, sweetened simple syrup, with something of a pandan infusion, dessicated coconut, again with the chilli flakes and flaky sea salt. Something that is present in the Sonson, that is very apparently absent in the other Clairins is a smoky element. Is this peated? And if so, it’s impossible to elucidate its provenance to Islay or the Highlands. It is at once sweet and salty.
More floral notes come through, ixoras namely, its sap specifically. More Clamato, some crushed blackberries and grilled pineapple slices, old wet wood, again with the kerosene and some tobacco leaf.
Closing out the finish, it turns more floral and fruity, but also takes a deeper inflection into something more woody and leafy. (Image Source: Nursery Bloom, National Geographic, Wiggly Wisdom, Freepik)
Some aeration brings out more tropical fruits primarily pineapples and coconuts, and the base cane syrup. It’s not boring that’s for certain, but do I like it? I can’t say. It’s equal parts complex and confusing.
Finish: Short, really not that much going on, could have passed off as sugared water.
This is probably the most unique of the Clairins thus far (the fifth in the series), and I would say the most potentially divisive.
It has some very interesting flavors that keeps you entertained but they seem to be discordant, flying in every which direction. You just can't quite seem to grasp where it's headed but you can't keep your eyes off it.
It's like Keeping Up With The Kardashians but Clairin.