The Man who Helped Discover the Winning Formula of FIJI GOLD BEER
It is around 4.30pm Saturday and the wind blowing across Suva Bay onto the Suva Bowling Club green seems refreshingly cool. At the same time the amber colour of Fiji Gold in a glass appears tempting. Warm fingers lift the beer mug from the table, where a man with white hair sips through parched lips. One look at him and you know he’d been sweating on the bowling green most of the day. He is 80, bespectacled, and wears the white hairdo of most men his age with dignity. From a distance he doesn’t seem to exude the energy he once radiated. You look away. But then someone tells you this is the man who helped create the formula behind the brand we now know as “Fiji Gold”. A few wows later, you look back with enthusiasm and meet Mataiyasi Vakaloloma Naua - patron of the Suva Bowling Club, bowling fanatic, father of 10 and career brewer. This is how it all began! In 1958, Naua started work at the then Carlton Brewery Fiji Limited, one year after it opened under the ownership of CBF and Carlton & United Brewers of Melbourne, Australia. He was 21,fresh out of DAV School and hoped to find a job where he’d work temporarily before finding a permanent one. He also had to help his dad who supported the family on his meagre wages as a gardener. “Funny, I didn’t grow up having a dream job. I was pretty much a good chemistry student so working at the brewery was a natural choice for me. I never intended to stay there for long but surprisingly it was the only place I ever worked. I stayed there for 43 years before retiring,”Naua said during an interview with maiLife. Naua’s first job was as laboratory assistant, testing products from the start of brewing process until beer was packed in kegs and ensuring that what people drank was safe. After three years, management decided to employ him at other stages of production starting from cleaning the company’s five brewing tanks and handling brewing raw materials including malt, hops (a leaf that produces alpha acid and gives beers its bitter taste), sugar and water. He spent up to six months learning the ins and outs of brewing, cooling, fermentation, cold storage, carbonation, filtration and pasteurisation. After the brewing stage he was involved in fermentation, a process where heated and cooled brew called wort was mixed with yeast and left to ferment for seven days. This period allowed the wort to react with yeast to give off carbon dioxide gas and form alcohol. Once fermentation was complete, beer was chilled on its way to storage tanks in the 31-32’F cellars where beer was subjected to cold temperatures and sediments were allowed to settle. Then beer in the tanks were injected with carbon dioxide gas and filtered into tanks for the pasteurisation process. Bulk pasteurisation resulted in draught beer which was finally stored in kegs while packaged beer was filled in bottles and went through a pasteurising chamber before it was labelled and packed in cartons. Naua said Fiji’s original beers were Fiji Bitter and Fiji Lager. A few formulas were created and products made throughout the years but nothing was quite like what they stumbled across in the 1990s. “In the 1990s. Fiji Bitter sales were going down so moves were made to find a beer formula people would love and help drive sales. Through trial and error that took close to year Fiji Gold was born.”
“I can’t tell you the specifics of the formula except that Fiji Gold is smooth and easy to drink. It is a strong brand that continues to do well in the market. After a career that spanned across four decades Naua retired in 2001 at the age of 64. He looks back with satisfaction knowing he had contributed a lot to the industry and a household brand loved by many the world over. “I joined just to gain work experience but little did I realise I was going to stay for 43 years. That is just how interesting my job was. There was never a dull moment because I worked with a very dedicated group of people. They respected me and I respected them.” “I made very good friends and continue to meet many of my former work family. Sometimes we sit down for a few beers and talk about the good old days.” For leisure, Naua and his wife, Martha, play lawn bowls at the Suva Bowling Club every Saturday. Bowling allows them to exercise, socialise and continue their association with Fiji Gold, the brand he calls his baby. “Bowling allows me to exercise all parts of my body and have fun. Beer also tastes so nice after a hot day on the lawn so after the games at around four or five, my wife and I get to sit down with friends and enjoy a few drinks,” Naua said. “I always advise people to drink Fiji Gold because it tastes beautiful. But like anything, you must take it in moderation otherwise it becomes not so beautiful,” When not sipping chilled beer with friends or playing bowls at the Suva Bowling Club, Naua enjoys the company of Martha at their Nadera home, a woman he says swept him off his feet as a young man. He said his father did not earn a lot as a gardener but he was hard working. His mother was a housewife. They lived on Charles Street in Toorak, a place people who grew up there fondly call Bagasau. “We lived in long barracks that had 10 rooms. We were renting one and Martha moved in opposite us with her mum. I fell in love with her the first time I saw her. She was really beautiful.” After a while, the two were walking to work together, hanging out and eventually falling into love. Martha explains: “I remember the day he proposed to me. We were walking to see some of his relatives in Laqere. I said hang on, I have to think about this. I was only a teenager and my mum was strict.” “It took a bit of time to size him out. We eventually got married and have been together since.” Naua said:”We have a seven year age difference but she was just so beautiful in those days. I knew she had a lot of admirers, some of them good friends of mine but I knew I could get her”. When asked about the secret of a lasting marriage, Naua was automatic with his reply. “A husband has to learn to listen to his wife. Most times the husband does the talking and the wife does the listening. You have to listen to each other, talk to each other and say sorry if you’ve done something wrong.” “A husband and his wife are equal partners…they are both up there, together, side by side. The woman is not below the man and the man is not above the woman. If a man treats his wife well, a woman will be happy, the couple won’t argue and there would be no reason to ever break up.” And Naua’s secret to longevity? “Happiness. Always be happy then nothing will bother you.” Being an important member of the team that produced the Fiji Gold formula does not make the Moce, Lau islander bigheaded. He said it was rather a humbling experience marked by hard work, careful research, hours of experiments and dedication. “Whenever I get a chance to have a few beers with friends I feel happy to drink and share a brand I was heavily involved with. I tell them to drink Fiji Gold and enjoy its health benefits.”
Mataiyasi relaxes at his Nadera home with wife, Martha.
The Nauas on the porch of their Nadera home.
Endless love…Martha and Mataiyasi get head to head.
Mataiyasi gives an interview at home.