This is another Fiji cross-tasting but this time we compare a bunch of different vintages (vertical tasting) rather than within a vintage (horizontal tasting). Different vintages of course means different washes and production batches. While the distillery’s unique character should be found in all of the rums, we might still expect different nuances in the flavour profiles of each of them.
The only difference between rums that are the product of the same batch, external influences and dilution aside, can come from the cask and the length and location of ageing. While these are often times already highly important factors in determining a rums profile and quality, the primary origin of flavours in traditional (molasses based) rums is the wash, which is arguably tougher to control than the other production steps (e.g. distillation). Slight variations can have noticeable impacts on the resulting distillates. Let’s waste no more time and taste four Fijians from four different vintages, ranging from 2001 to 2004!
Samaroli Fiji 2001 (45%): This Samaroli has been bottled in July 2015, so it has to be at least 13 years old. Coming from the well-known 2001 vintage, we should know what to look for by now. Already upon pouring the rum I am being greeted by a fair amount of esters, which fill the entire room. Not bad for 45%. Deeper in the glass I smell lovage, cardamom and plenty of biowaste from the compost. I can even find potatoes in there! Further away and nosing around the glass I detect citrus and slightly medical notes. The taste is also a bit atypical. There are freshly squeezed lemons, thyme, menthol, mint and some of the biowaste in the background. The rum lost a large part of its body due to the dilution and the flavours are relatively thin. I think this is a bit too watery, god knows why Samaroli reduces almost everything to the same strength. The finish is relatively short with lovage, thyme and dry wood. The nose was nice, the taste quite forgettable. Another great example for excessive dilution that did more harm than good.
Kill Devil Fiji 2002 14YO (46%): Kill Devil is the rum line of Hunter Laing, which is now an established player in the whisky-scene. This will be my first Fijian from 2004. Let’s see. Nose: This is quintessential Fiji I’d say. I smell citrus fruits, rubber, thyme and basil. It’s quite lovely and very strong on the Jamaican side. The esters are nicely integrated. The first sip gently reveals the rum’s flavours. There are esters in the form of banana and pineapple, white chocolate, limes and the typical plastic mouthfeel. Then mild chillies and honey. Only later do you get more herbs and the classical Rockley flavours such as smokey medicine and beeswax. Charcoal and aromas of BBQ can be found as well. The switch from a Wedderburn Jamaican to a Rockley W.I.R.D. profile is quite interesting. The finish is relatively spicy, with notes of chillies, dry tobacco and leather. This one was surprisingly good! Unlike the roughly equally old Samaroli, the dilution did not leave a negative impression; the rum is not watery at all. Well done, Mr Laing.
Duncan Taylor Fiji 2003 10YO (53,8%): This rum from cask #7 must have been one of the first Fijians I have tried. Back then, I thought it was a fine rum but it was lacking that certain something which would set it apart from the “mainstream”. Even though this has more power than the previous two rums, the nose seems to be shier. The pale colour also suggests that we might have a different contender here. I can smell vanilla, some oak, whipped cream and toffee. The fresh citrus aromas seem to be completely missing. Then caramel and toffee apple. It’s not bad, it’s just different and more reserved. Let’s taste. Again, the first thing I get is vanilla. Then whipped cream and caramel. It’s very sweet in comparison to the other candidates. With the second sip I all of a sudden get plenty of honey and chinese baked banana (with honey sauce of course). Then medical notes, mixed herbs and a smokey profile. The rum definitely takes some time to get accustomed to. There are lots of things to discover here. Finish: Long. A smokey texture and medical flavours remain on my tongue for quite a bit. This is a Fiji for the Rockley gang. It probably won’t make it onto my Fiji leaderboard but if you strictly prefer the honey and medical side in a Fijian you might want to give this one a try. Importantly, it’s relatively affordable.
Compagnie des Indes Fiji 2004 10YO (44%): Another “new” Fiji vintage and to the best of my knowledge exclusive to Compagnie des Indes so far (edit: Ultimatum also bottled 2004 this year. Its profile is quite similar to this one). This particular one comes from cask #SF32. It smells a bit different. Most notably, the alcohol is playing a more prominent role and doesn’t seem to be too well-integrated. All in all, the nose is very “spanish” with caramel, tobacco, and toffee. It takes some time to find some esters and lemons. Eventually I also get sour apples. Definitely not to my liking. The palate is equally sobering. At first I didn’t believe that this might be Fiji but if you know it and take some time you can find a few of its trademarks. Blindly, I might have put this to Panama or perhaps W.I.R.D. (but not to one of their better styles). I get tobacco, leather, some unmentionable herbs and… not a whole lot. Sure there are some esters, a bit of honey and a few lemons but I guess it’s only there because I either know what to look for or because my mind is playing tricks on me. The finish is quite short, with some cask aromas. Nope, this isn’t very good.
I wouldn’t say the tasting session was a disappointment, but I have been expecting more. The Kill Devil 2002 was quite nice, despite the dilution. The rest of the bunch had a few weak spots however. The Samaroli 2001 had a promising nose, but the palate couldn’t keep up unfortunately. How exactly Samaroli is getting along with the prices they charge is beyond me. Most other bottlers charge less and offer their rums at a higher abv. Take the Duncan Taylor 2003, for example. My only criticism is that it is a bit too heavy on the Bajan side for me, but that might be a plus for others. It’s a good rum if you don’t precisely expect an epiphany and the price is fair. Last but not least, we have the Compagnie des Indes 2004. Not only is it very unusual for a Fijian, it also simply isn’t a good rum. Perhaps if you expect something different or like the Spanish rum style a lot, but even then it’s only average at best.
Once more, these samples come from bottle-splits by Jörn. Thanks a lot!