Its inimitable orange flavoured, bitter-sweet taste and amber colour is distinctly Maltese and has been the island’s thirst-quenching beverage of choice for 50 years. We celebrate this most iconic of Maltese products – Kinnie
There might be nothing more synonymous to a Maltese thirst-quencher than Kinnie – a beverage prepared from bitter oranges and a combination of secret herbs whose fabled status is as iconic as Twistees and pastizzi.
Today, this grand old drink ranks not just among the favourite mainstays of any Maltese household, but is itself as old as the history of Malta’s industrial development.
Produced by the Farsons Brewery at the time of its incorporation as Simonds Farsons Cisk, this drink came to rival the Italian chinotto and traditional American colas not just by winning the hearts of the Maltese, but their taste buds.
The credit certainly goes to the man who came to be synonymous with the Farsons name – Anthony Miceli Farrugia – an accountancy apprentice at his uncle’s company L. Farrugia & Son, owner of the Farsons brewery.
In 1951, now working as advertising manager, Miceli Farrugia was in Milan on the hunt for a new brand of drinks, together with his uncle Luigi ‘Ġiġi’ Farrugia.
The entrepreneurs were hoping to find a product that could become a non-alcoholic soft drink in Malta with mass appeal, that could be marketed by the Simonds Farsons Cisk – the recent merger between Farsons and Cisk Lager producers Malta Export Brewery.
While Ġiġi left Milan to attend a business meeting with Schweppes in London, Miceli Farrugia searched for a firm that could supply him with the essences of a bitter-sweet soft drink. His formula was clear enough: “The Maltese palate and taste was more inclined in this direction than to something sweet, like a cola or an Italian chinotto.”
Miceli Farrugia visited a number of Italian firms exhibiting their essential oils and aromatic essences at the Milan International Fair: his request was for an essence “with the taste of a light vermouth like Punt e Mes or Campari”.
Back in Malta with three samples, it would be Paolo Salamina’s essence that would form the base of this new Maltese, fruity, bitter-sweet drink with a dark amber colour. Pharmacist Augustus Gandini developed the bitter, orange-flavored carbonated beverage – the taste proved to be a lighter, fruitier version of the popular Italian drink Chinotto.
It was Ġiġi Farrugia who chose the name ‘Kinnie’ – an easily pronounceable label for the Maltese, Italian and English. And so Kinnie was born in June 1952, facing off the stiff competition from Coca-Cola and Pepsi, Seven-Up, Kitty Cola and Schweppes Orangeora. Within two years, it commanded a third of the market, mopping off rival brands like Chinotto Nero and became a top thirst-quencher or mixer just like Coca-Cola and Seven-Up. In 1975, it became the soft drink of the year of the French Comité International d’Action Gastronomique et Touristique. Its Diet version appeared less than 10 years later in 1984.
Fast-forward to 2007, when a new low-calorie version of Kinnie – Kinnie Zest – burst onto the market with a stronger orange flavour, and in 2014, the Kinnie Vita, sweetened using a blend of sugar and stevia leaf extract. And since the 1990s, Kinnie has been marketed internationally to the large communities of Maltese migrants around the world such as the UK, Canada and in Australia, where it is produced by Maltese Beverages Pty under a licence from Farsons. But the drink has also been exported to markets in Italy, Germany, Poland, the Netherlands, and Libya.
Fifty years later, Kinnie remains an integral part of Maltese culture and cuisine, serving as a mixer for rum or vodka, and now also available as an alcoholic drink called Kinnie Spritz since 2021.