One thinks, of course, of the Caribbean, Central America, and South America when one thinks of rum. But, point of fact, rum is a globally produced spirit. Grog is distilled from sugar cane and its constituents, and sugar cane thrives in almost every tropical climate. And it doesn’t get much more tropical than the exotic archipelago nation of Fiji in the South Pacific.
Sugar cane has grown naturally in Fiji for millennia, and has been harvested by hand and cultivated for nearly as long. The rich, volcanic soil there is not only fertile, it acts as a superb filter for the abundant summer rains, providing extremely pure fresh water for growing (and for filling pristine aquafers like the source of the nation’s eponymous bottled water). Fiji’s climate also provides for a more intense aging process for barreled rums, allowing natural fruit and spice flavors to expand and define the spirit itself.
Plantation Rum’s founder and master blender Alexandre Gabriel produces many notable rums, generally from Caribbean sources, but a partnership with Rum Co. of Fiji’s Liam F. Costello is opening up the globe to Plantation’s offerings. Plantation is the rum brand of the larger Maison Ferrand cognac house, and these recent Fijian developments present a wonderfully global approach to the spirit.
“At Plantation, we always strive for the best rums, a high-quality product that will highlight an interesting culture with a specific decades or centuries-old heritage and know-how,” Gabriel says of the partnership. “Working with Liam is extremely enjoyable because it is like working with a kindred spirit. Someone willing and able to put forward Fijian’s excellence in the rum culture.”
Simply put, the new Isle of Fiji Rum and Plantation Fiji Vintage 2005, the first of many planned collaborations, ship expertly distilled Fijian rums (blended from pot and column still distillations and barreled in former-bourbon casks in the South Pacific) to France, where they receive an additional barrel aging in Ferrand casks.
That Cognac kiss is unmistakable. In the Isle of Fiji Rum ($25), the 2 to 3 years bourbon-barrel aging in Fiji and the additional year of in France elevates an overall fruitiness and spiciness that almost tastes like a rum spiced after distillation. But these notes are natural, and range from an intense molasses sweetness on the nose to a sophisticated nutmeg, pear, and honey flavor, with even a bit of banana and coconut on the tongue. The sophistication of this relatively young rum is pretty remarkable, and it can work as a sipping spirit, especially with an ice cube or two to release even more aroma and flavor. But Isle of Fiji will sing its alluring song best in a traditional tropical cocktail of any stripe.
In the limited edition Plantation Fiji Vintage 2005 ($80), the aspects of purity and aging kick into an even higher gear. Derived from only triple column-still rum aged 14 years in former-bourbon barrels in Fiji, this first of many planned Birds of Paradise Vintage rums rests for an additional year in France in French oak. The nose adds abundant fruit notes to the rum’s natural sweet aroma; expect cooked apple, plum, and some spice. Once in motion, this methodically aged spirit unveils itself in a complex, alcohol-forward palate, with interesting notes of chocolate, nuttiness, and a rich brown sugar finish.
This is a unique rum to savor, perhaps while pondering what elegant creation might next make the journey.