Discovering Mauritius (and its rum)

Unless you're fond of map reading for pleasure, even the most traveled world tourist can be excused for not knowing the location of Mauritius.

If, however, you're a fan of fine rums, check your globe. The island nation off the east coast of Africa -- actually off the east coast of Madagascar which, itself, is off the east coast of Africa (see map)-- is showing signs of coming into its own as an international purveyor of fine rums.

Some months ago, as a judge in the first International Cane Spirits Competition, held in Tampa, FL, I had the opportunity to sample Starr African Rum, perhaps the best Mauritius has to offer. The judges awarded it a gold medal in the white rums category (including spirits aged less than a year).

The three other gold medalists in that category were more mainstream labels -- Santa Teresa Blanco, from Venezuela; Prichard's Crystal Rum, from the U.S., and Ron Botran White Rum, from Guatamala.

My tasting notes for the event called the Starr African Rum "peppery; floral; and, with a long finish." There are hints of cardamom and citrus, all of which work well in various rum punches.

Now, Mauritius will be expanding its sales in India as part of a new trade agreement signed between the two countries. (About 70% of Mauritius's population is of Indian descent.) The agreement allows Mauritius to triple its rum exports to India.

The change is part of a steady growth in the presence of Starr African rum. It received a "Superb 90-95 (Recommended)" rating from Wine Spectator last year, then the godl medal in Tampa, and has been popping up at various "beautiful people" events at which clever PR types have been managing to link the names of show biz luminaries.
When that happens, mainstream success probably can't be far behind.

If you ever plan to visit Mauritius, what can you expect?

Well, there is more to Mauritius than one might think. The republic includes the main island as well as the islands of St. Brandon, Rodrigues and the Agalega Islands. (Mauritius actually is part of a grouping known as the Mascarene Islands, which includes the French island of RĂ©union 125 miles to the southwest.)

Mauritius (pronounced mah-REE-shus) is known for its scenic beauty. Mark Twain, in "Following the Equator," wrote of it, "You gather the idea that Mauritius was made first and then Heaven, and that Heaven was copied after Mauritius."

Although frequently visited by mariners from many nations, it was not inhabited until the Dutch colonized the island in 1638. It was later governed by France, then Great Britain, achieving independence in 1968 as part of the British Commonwealth, then became a republic in 1992.

It comes by rum making naturally, since about 90% of the cultivated land area is given over to sugar cane, which accounts for 25% of export earnings.

English is the official language, although French is heavily used in the business sector and in the media.


Discover Mauritius
CIA World Factbook
HRW World Atlas


A true whisky club under way in Scotland

While Americans were busy resting from their work and enjoying the long Labor Day wekend, workers in Ladybank, Scotland, were just beginning a unique construction project.

Scotland's first "private club" whisky distillery (shown here in an architect's sketch) began its $1.9 million first-phase construction at a location near St. Andrews on Thursday, the project funded by subscriptions from a global network of whisky fans.

The Ladybank Company of Distillers Club was dreamed up by James Thomson, 46, who ran a whisky distilling school at Bladnoch in Dumfries and Galloway. It is located on a former farm, and is expected to produce just under 9,500 gallons a year. It is planned that the membership will be closely involved in production decisions such as length of aging and type of casking, affecting the taste of the product.

Thomson, in an interview with local media that seemed part Q&A, part anti-establishment polemic, said the idea for a "co-creative" distillery came from his disillusionment with the distilling and production practices of an industry dominated by "inflexible multinational conglomerates," and his experience of training enthusiasts in the art of distilling.

The Distillers Club is limited to 1,250 members. Participants or their heirs are entitled to six bottles of whisky per year for the next 30 years. The 300 founding members each paid a one-time $6,000 for membership. Subsequent members will pay a higher fee.

Thomson plans to produce gin and other spirits along with single malt Scotch whisky. He said the total project cost is projected at $4.8 million.


Cape Cod Beer x 2

HYANNIS, MA -- Heavy tourism areas usually have their own food or drink that people remember year-round and can't wait to have during the next visit.

Cape Cod Beer, brewed in this mid=Cape city, is such a beverage. The brewery (motto: "A Vacation In Every Pint") opened its new facility in March, then found its product so successful it had trouble meeting demand during the summer.

Technology to the rescue: Three new fermentation vessels have been installed, doubling the facility's production capacity. Two tanks came from China and one from the Czech Republic. They were ordered some time ago, but there have been shortages in the stainless steel industry, creating a tight market.

Beer Advocate.com has a full report on the Cape Cod operation.

Cape Cod Beer offers tours of and tastings at its 1336 Phinney's Lane facility. Details: (508) 790-4200. Prior to moving there, owner/brewmaster Todd Marcus had been making his brews in shared Main Street quarters with the Hyport Brewing Company Restaurant until that business closed.

Marcus produces two standard offerings: Cape Cod Red and Cape Cod IPA, plus seasonal brews such as Berry Merry Christmas Ale, Spiced Red Ale, Stellwagen Stout, and Cape Cod Summer.

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