Rum rebellion puts distilling business in a sunshine state of mind

Rum, the distilled spirit most closely associated with Queensland, has a new challenger in Pacific Drifter – a spirit that also has sugarcane at its heart.

Ask anyone from interstate for a distinctly Queensland image and emerald green cane fields are likely to spring to mind.

Ask about a distilled spirit and they will probably mention rum – but that could soon change.

Released mid-2023 and already a trophy-winner, Pacific Drifter is a spiced cane spirit.

Like rum, it uses sugarcane as its base – the molasses is locally-sourced in southeast Queensland – however, cane spirit differs from rum in that it is not aged.

The resulting spirit is lighter and cleaner, allowing the infused flavours more vibrancy.

Pacific Drifter’s Chris Illman said product development was driven by consumers’ commentary on sister brand, Beenleigh Rum.

“The feedback we were getting is consumers love our Australian rum,” he said.

“But rum is an acquired taste, because it’s heavy and flavoursome.

“We could see an opportunity to produce a lighter spirit to pair with cola or ginger beer.”

Landing on the Pacific Drifter’s final blend of cinnamon, Madagascan vanilla and citrusy notes of orange and lemon peel took time.

“We would have had probably 30 or 40 iterations over a two-year period,” said Illman, who was one of the many providing feedback to Pacific Drifter’s skilled distillers via taste testings.

“We showed a number of different iterations to Beenleigh Rum drinkers and to our national trade customers to also get their input, make some amendments and go from there.”

Just three months after its release, Pacific Drifter won the Spiced Rum/Cane Spirit Trophy at the 2023 Australian Rum Awards.

“It’s great recognition, especially at such an early point,” Illman said.

“It shows the quality cues of the product are really strong, so it’s an incredibly luxurious position for any brand to be in.”

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Pacific Drifter is aimed at the under-40s market. Shaken with Vok Blue Curacao, lime juice and sugar syrup and topped with pineapple juice, it delivers a classic, holiday vibe-inducing Drifter In Hawaii.

While Illman also recommends adding ginger beer and a wedge of lime to the spirit for a Drifter In A Storm with a “a super-refreshing flavour profile”.

Molasses is actually a by-product of the sugar-making process and, as a brand, Pacific Drifter leans into its environmental credentials.

The labels on the recycled glass bottles are made from sugar cane waste that would otherwise be burned, while using only Queensland-made molasses helps to reduce the drink’s carbon footprint.

The company will also roll out a Pacific Drifter coastal revegetation project later this year.

Illman said it is important to the company to do its part for the community.

“We take great pride in being an independently-owned distillery and in being here in southeast Queensland.”

Pacific Drifter is available at Liquorland, First Choice, Sippify and select local independent retailers.

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