Mauritius: Rum in the Sun

03 January, 2014

Commercial & business development manager Yousouf Ismael, says of the rums, which only came into production five years ago:  “Three or four years ago we began exporting for the Mauritian diaspora in the UK and France – French-speaking countries especially have a penchant for agricole. It’s a family estate and everything we use is natural. Vanilla rum is our biggest seller.”

The vanilla is all grown on the estate, which also boasts a tea plantation alongside the 5,000ha of sugar cane. The company is now looking to export to the States, China and Africa. “The growth for vodka is over and now people are focussing on rum,” says Ismael.

New and funky

St Aubin is also a partner with NPK, probably the funkiest of all the new generation Mauritian rums, made from sugar cane on a vertical still so it can be taken to a third distillation, and aimed firmly at the younger market.

Distributor Sunairsea general manager Jack McLaughlin says he was asked to import rum into Europe and noticed younger people wanting a new product which was “more conscious of the environment”. Packaged in a recyclable aluminium bottle, NPK comes in Ginger & Apple, Orange Spicy, Melon, Strawberry and Mint & Liquorice flavours, as well as Gold Essential and Pure White.

And just last month Essential Gold, Melon and Orange Spicy won double gold medals at the CWSA in Hong Kong, with Apple Ginger taking bronze. “We are dead chuffed that our start-up company won these awards,” says McLaughlin.

Certainly the brand attracted favourable reviews from some of the importers at the Mauritian Rum Festival. Prem Naidu, of nearest mainland neighbour South Africa’s Next Generation Beverage Group, describes NPK as “really vibrant”. He adds; “The packaging is not in the old mould of clear bottles and staid dark and white. I particularly enjoyed the apple and ginger it doesn’t come across as too sweet. I see it working initially in the on-trade, which is where new brands in SA have to start. It’s a challenge but NPK says pretty, it says fun.”

Orchards and cane fields

In a similar vein to St Aubin is Rhumerie des Mascareignes, which produces the agricole La Bourdonnais range of Blanc, Pailee and Ambré rums and the Rhumeur premier range.

The La Bourdonnais distillery was built in 2008 at the 150-year-old 450ha estate which comprises some 50ha of orchards alongside the 360ha of sugar cane. Rhumerie des Mascareignes director Jean Francois Lagesse says the company intended to make a niche product and was trying to diversify with flavoured rums using fruits produced in its orchard.

While it sells mainly on the local market it does export in bulk to the UK and France

Lagesse says: “This business is quite competitive so we have to see if we can find a partner so we can secure a market. We are trying to find our little space in this world. We want to have a product which mirrors what you see around the estate, using our own fruits.”

One of the biggest players is International Distillers Mauritius, which produces one of the most familiar Mauritian rums, the molasses-based Green Island, under which brand the three-year-old Oaked was launched last year. This year it also joined the agricole sector with its Starr African rum for the US market and boasts within its stable the interesting Tilambic 151 Overproof. Tilambic is the Creole name for the stills used by the farmers in the countryside making their own home rums. 

This seven-year-old molasses rum is column distilled through 30ft column stills, then aged in whisky casks for seven years. It is unfiltered and reduced to 151 proof for bottling. But the rum can only be sold outside of Mauritius where the permitted abv limit is 50%. At 75.5% Tilambic is well over this. According to Green Island’s Yogen Bacha, the product is nicknamed ‘Vicious from Mauritius’ in London, where it is a staple of tiki bars.

It might be a small island, but Mauritius has certainly embraced the diversity of rum as a spirit and is already proving it can produce world-class agricole spirit alongside its traditional rums, in a wide variety of styles and flavours.

And the artisanal approach of the distillers is bound to attract attention, says Miami-based rum expert Robert Burr. “The craft movement is good to have and those producers are winning awards. People are open to discovering what the new craft spirits are. We can expect Mauritius to arrive very soon.”

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