The story of sugar on Fiji dates back to 1862, when the first attempt to plant sugar cane on Wakaya Island resulted in a financial failure. Planters, supported by incentive based governmental rewards, only turned back to sugar after the cotton price slump of 1870. The first sugar mill was built in 1872 in Suva and six years later nine more were in operation. In 1880, the British colonial official John Bates Thurston went to Australia to attract investments for Fiji and convinced the Colonial Sugar Refining Company (CSR) to extend its operations to Fiji. Nevertheless, most sugar mills did not survive the sugar price slump of 1884 and by 1926 CSR owned all of the five survivors. Their “reign” lasted until 1973 and by 1976 the national Fiji Sugar Marketing Company Limited (FSC) has taken over the sugar mills. Crucially, this spawned the only distillery on Fiji three years later, the South Pacific Distillery.
Their pot still, which should be responsible for all of the rums listed below, has been acquired from the New Zealand Whisky distillery Willowbank, which closed for good in ~1995. It seems likely that they only had a column still before that, at least there are no signs pointing towards another pot still.
On the homepage of Fiji Rum Co (a brand produced at South Pacific Distillery), we learn a few interesting things which are not solely marketing claptrap. The island retains very rich volcanic soils with virtually no erosion. This allows most of the sugar cane to be grown completely organically. Moreover, the sugar cane on the distillery’s plantation is still cut by hand which supposedly leads to a richer cane juice with fewer tannins. Broadly speaking, Fijian rums taste a bit like a combination of fruity and ester-rich Jamaicans, smokey and medical Rockleys from Barbados and dirty Caronis from Trinidad. Here, the distillery claims that its traditional sugar mills and production techniques produce a molasses that is very rich and has a particularly high base sugar, which has a decisive influence on the uniquely flavoured final product. They also recognise the importance of climate for ageing, stating that “the heat and the humidity (of the Fijian climate -SCR) […] accelerates the ageing process. This produces more complexity of flavour over a comparable period in colder climates”. And we can taste this ourselves! We know from Compagnie des Indes that their 2004 Fijian rums have been ageing on Fiji until 2010. To the best of my knowledge, the first Fijians by independent bottlers saw European market shelves in 2011. This suggest a major trade agreement or at least a huge shipment in 2010. If this is true, all the Fijians that we are getting right now should have spent a large part of their lives in tropical climates, which would explain their relatively high maturity. It will be interesting to compare these rums with those distilled after 2010 one day. If we will get them, that is. So far, the latest vintage that I am aware of is the aforementioned Compagnie des Indes from 2004.
The following is a list of tasted Fijian rums as a reference.
- Berry Bros & Rudd Fiji 9YO (2001-2011), 46%
- Berry Bros & Rudd Fiji 10YO (2001-2011), 46%
- Berry Bros & Rudd Fiji 11YO (2001-2012), 46%
- Cadenhead’s Fiji 12YO (2003-2015), 60,7%
- Cadenhead’s Fiji 13YO (2003-2016), 59,6%
- Compagnie des Indes Fiji 10YO #SF32 (2004-2015), 44%
- Duncan Taylor Fiji 10YO (2003-2013), 54,8%
- Duncan Taylor Fiji 10YO (2003-2014), 53,8%
- Kill Devil Fiji 14YO (2002-2016), 46%
- Moon Import Fiji 14YO (2001-2015), 45%
- Pellegrini Fiji “Enfant Terrible” 13YO (2003-2016), 50%
- Samaroli Fiji 14YO (2001-2015), 45%
- The Rum Cask Fiji 10YO (2003-2013), 62,9%
- The Rum Cask Fiji 15YO (2001-2016), 59,3%