Mauritius: Rum in the Sun

Mauritius recently lifted its prohibition on agricole rum, releasing a new generation of distillers keen to gain global recognition. Jaq Bayles visited the island’s first Rum Festival

THE ARCHETYPAL INDIAN OCEAN  paradise island, Mauritius has it all – white-sand beaches, turquoise waters, swaying palm trees. It has a melting pot of cultures, having been variously invaded by the Dutch, French and English before gaining independence in 1968 and finally becoming a republic in 1992. It has miles of sugar cane fields. It has vanilla and pineapples and lychees. It had the dodo bird, its national symbol, until that was hunted to extinction in the 17th century.

And it has rum. In fact, Mauritius recently became one of the few places in the world to produce two types of rum, both molasses and agricole. Until 2006 there was a prohibition on the production of agricole – rum made from sugar cane juice – as the island was so heavily reliant on its sugar-refining industry, but with the lifting of that ban came a minor explosion of the product and Mauritius is now setting out its stall as a global provider of agricole rum.

To cement that decision, back in August Mauritius held its first ever rum festival, recruiting self-styled global rum ambassador Ian Burrell to curate the three-day jamboree, which comprised blind tastings, lectures and bartender competitions, culminating in a trade-based rum fair and consumer rum fiesta.

The festival was backed by trade promotion organisation Enterprise Mauritius, representatives of which attended Burrell’s RumFest in London last year and decided that was just the type of event needed to relaunch the island’s rum industry “because it has seen so much development and research”. And it came at just the right time, as the future for rum is looking particularly bright – International Wine & Spirits Research released earlier this year showed strong growth potential in regions where rum remains relatively underdeveloped, including central and eastern Europe and the Balkans, the CIS, east Asia and the Middle East. The research pinpointed a 4.7% compound annual growth rate (CAGR) between 2006 and 2011, and showed total sales standing at 146.4m nine-litre cases.

While there are only a handful of distilleries in Mauritius, between them they are well-placed to expand the burgeoning rum sector globally with a variety of aged, spiced, overproof and flavoured rums exploiting the diverse fruits and flavours of the island. 

Speaking at the opening of the Mauritian Rum Festival Burrell told the assembled producers and visitors: “These are some of the best rums I have seen in the world. Mauritius has indigenous flavours, spices and fruits that we can infuse and you should be promoting the way of life as well as the category.”

But he added: “This is a long race – it’s a marathon, not a sprint. Rum is one of the fastest growing spirits categories in the world and you guys are right in the middle of it.”