This blog documents my attempt to drink a beer from every country in the world and every state in the United States.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Country #30: Fiji

Beer: Vonu Pure Lager

Brewery: Vonu Beer Company, Nadi, Fiji

ABV: 4.8%

This beer is not made with this water, which is probably for the best.
As hard as it will be to find beer from Africa, it’ll be even harder to find beer from any of the countries comprising Oceania, the motley smattering of volcanic and coral islands dotting the Pacific Ocean. Some of these countries are just too small to produce a beer. Tuvalu, for instance, consists of nine coral islands and atolls, has a smaller land area than Bayonne, New Jersey, and is home to only 10,000 people. Instead of attracting honeymooners, Tuvalu makes money by selling web site domain names, since their country’s top-level internet domain is (by a stroke of luck!) .tv. Nearby Nauru, a single island barely bigger than Tuvalu, made its cash by selling bird shit for fertilizer, until they ran out of the stuff and had to start laundering money for the Russian mob before giving up the practice. Both places are about a thousand miles from anything, so even if they had the population and infrastructure to support a brewery, the cost of exporting the stuff (and importing the ingredients) would be astronomical.

Volcanic islands like Fiji (and also Tonga and Vanuatu) make beer. Coral islands, like Tuvalu (left) and Nauru (right: all of it!!) don't have the space or the resources. They're more concerned with staying above water.
Fiji, however, is unique among Pacific island nations. It’s bigger and more populous than the rest of ‘em. It has mountains, and therefore much more rain, so water—a fairly important ingredient in beer—is not at a premium (though drinkable water is unfortunately scarce). And it’s a bit closer to Australia than some of the smaller islands, so it attracts loads of tourists. So, making beer is not only possible, but it’s pretty much required. Aussies like to drink, and you might as well make money selling them beer.

It aggravates me to no end that the map I use to keep track of my progress doesn't show small island countries like Cape Verde and St. Lucia, which could easily be drawn on the map. Fiji is big enough to show up here, but most of the other countries in the Pacific literally are too small to draw at the scale of this map. Still, maddening.
So a few breweries are operating in Fiji. Fiji Bitter is the most popular beer in the country, but it isn’t exported to the United States. Vonu Pure Lager is though, at least as far as Hawaii, where my wife picked some up for me. Fittingly, Vonu is made in Nadi, Fiji’s most popular tourist center, which reduces the shipping costs to get the product to the sunburned bogans who want it. It’s a pretty standard pale lager, and considering it came from thousands of miles away in a country better known for coconuts than beer, I’d say it’s quite good, and certainly more flavorful than most cheap American beers. 

Vonu is the word for sea turtle in several Polynesian languages. And now you know.
Since it’s really just an ordinary beer, the only reason I found myself drinking Vonu was because of this blog. I can find a dozen and a half beers that taste just like it that aren’t shipped thousands of miles across the ocean. I make this same argument when encouraging people not to buy Fiji Water. You can get artesian water (which is what Fiji Water is) from a variety of sources in the United States, minus the consumption of fossil fuels. This is a slight moral dilemma for me: in bringing the world to my stomach (and liver), I’m supporting unnecessary carbon emissions, all in the name of a silly hobby. In this case at least, I can be pleased that the folks at Vonu are donating a good deal of money to sea turtle conservation efforts in Fiji (vonu is a word for sea turtle). Good for them, but maybe they can do something about getting potable water to poor Fijians, too.

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