Huzzah! We arrived in Bundaberg on an absolutely stunning May morning and it would have been absolute poppycock if we didn’t go and visit the home of a great Aussie legend, Bundaberg Rum. After spending the day seeing the sights and exploring the Capricorn Coast, we stopped in at the Bundaberg Distillery for a tour with Tammy and Chauntelle, and some serious a’rum’atherapy.
The History of Rum in Australia
The first inklings of rum began in the 17th century when English settlers in the West Indies started to produce a clear alcoholic drink from sugar cane. They would still import sherry and port in oak barrels, but when returning them to the homeland, they would return them filled with rum, thus creating dark rum.
By the late 1700s, rum had become a popular drink, particularly amongst sailors on the First Fleet. A monopoly over the rum trade was held by the NSW Corps (aka Rum Corps), and when Governor William Bligh cracked down on the rum trade, the head of the Rum Corps staged a revolt on the Government House in Sydney. This event is known as the Rum Rebellion and it was Australia’s one and only military coup.
The Rum Corps ruled the colony until 1810 when Britain sent over another bloke, Lachlan Macquarie, to step in as Governor and disband the Rum Corps.
Established in 1888, the Bundaberg Distillery uses molasses from a neighbouring sugar mill to make delicious rum. These days, the raw molasses is stored in three massive wells that can hold a total of 10 million litres. When we were in the molasses building, we were overwhelmed at the volume of thick, sticky goo that was held in the well, despite it being nowhere near half full.
Once the molasses is clarified and cleaned of impurities, it’s mixed with yeast to ferment. The yeast that they use is the same strain that they used back in 1888, and they even make use of a ‘yeast bank’ in England (National Collection of Yeast Cultures) to ensure that their yeast is pure and true.
Once the yeast and molasses are combined in a fermenting vat, it turns into a frothy cappuccino as the yeast consumes the sugars in the molasses and poops out alcohol. This mixture is only 50% alcohol so it’s double distilled to maximise the alcohol content before being put into enormous American white oak vats to mature. Each vat costs $100,000 to build and is employed for 80-100 years. The oldest vat at the distillery, which is affectionately referred to as a ‘she’, is around 70 years old. There’s 300 vats on site and each one holds 75,000 litres, which means there is over 22 million litres of Bundy Rum maturing on site.
Since its birth, the distillery has seen a few catastrophes. In 1907, a devastating fire blazed at the site, lighting up the entire town, and to this day, the cause of the fire is unknown. Despite the nearby river, water was not readily available to fight the fire so it was left to burn, along with 150,000 gallons of rum and all of the company’s machinery. They were back up and running within a year. There was another fire around 30 years later, caused by a bolt of lightning, and just as it did in 1907, the fire lit up the town and could be seen from hundreds of kilometres away.
In 2013 when floods covered Bundaberg, the distillery not only donated a large sum of money to assist with the recovery efforts, but they also released limited edition Road to Recovery bottles of five year old rum, with local street names printed on the labels. Every house that was affected by the floods received a bottle, and any leftover were sold to raise more money.
Bundaberg Distillery Co. is also very proud to be environmentally aware, recycling water and waste whenever possible, reducing greenhouse gas emissions, producing recyclable packaging using alternative materials, and encouraging staff to recycle and participate in environmental initiatives like Clean Up Australia Day.
If you have ever wondered why there’s a polar bear on the Bundaberg label, it’s because Bundaberg Rum can warm even the chilliest of chills, and it was also an attempt to win over Aussies in the southern states. These days, the bear remains the spirit of the company and the burn on the rum is nicknamed the bear bite.
After we had strolled the museum and explored the distillery, it was time to head into the bar to samples two rums of our choice. We each chose two rums and promised the other that they could have a taste as well. These are the rums we chose:
- Blenders 2015 – released the Saturday before our arrival, this gorgeous rum has a sweet smell and bear bite entry, with a sweet port finish that is mellow and worth savouring. If you see it at the shops, buy two bottles – one to enjoy now and another to start your collection.
- Blenders 2014 – this rum was light yellow in colour and tasted much like whiskey. Dave really enjoyed this one.
- Two Eighty – named after the amount of barrels that were made of this limited edition, it had a smooth honey taste with a bear bite finish.
- Mutiny – this spiced rum was made to mix with cola. It’s very smooth and sweet with the flavours of vanilla.
It was awesome to visit the home and birthplace of an Aussie legend. It was also great to witness the fitness of another Big Thing – the Big Bundy bottle that stands outside the Visitor Centre.
Tours run every day, every hour on the hour between 10am and 3pm (or 2pm on weekends and public holidays). For more information and to plan your visit, check out their website: http://www.bundabergrum.com.au/