We go behind-the-scenes at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery in Queensland

As part of our weekend up north for The Spirit of Bundaberg Festival last year, we got an exclusive behind-the-scenes tour of the distillery as well as tastings of their new release the Master Distillers Collection Black Barrel – Distilled 2005 as well many other internationally award-winning top shelf rums Bundaberg Rum is now making.

Cheerful and informative, we were shown around by Duncan (Senior Brand Manager) and Dean (Site Manager) and the first stop was the molasses pit.

Pictured: Duncan and Dean

Molasses is the sugar mill next doors unusable by-product and the increased demand in Bundaberg’s sugar production in the 1880’s brought an inundation of this waste. The top 1inch layer of foam looks firm and just like when the water recedes on a beach. It has the scent of a sweet, murky, earthy produce, yet the taste is reminiscent of a dark liquorice and maple syrup infusion.

With so much waste, a group of farmers started the iconic Bundaberg Distilling Company and the first barrel of rum was produced 1888. What a solution! With sugar cane growth and harvesting only around for 6 months of the year, the distillery stores enough molasses for the entire year.

Molasses, water and yeast are the three main ingredients in making rum. From here it is joined by water and yeast which has been developing for 36 hours. The brands specific and special yeast strain to be cultivated. Fun fact – their strain is so unique and important it is constantly being tested to make sure it doesn’t change and is stored in 3 secret locations around the world just in case. Once the water, yeast and molasses are mixed they are kept in fermentation tank for 2 days where they reach a worth of 8% alcohol.

Pictured: Yeast fermentation tanks. They generate so much heat from their own expansion, water is used to cool the tanks from the outside.

After two steps of distillation involving steam, the raw rum is now at 78% alcohol and is transferred to one of the 283 American White-Oak VATs on site where it is mixed with pure, demineralised water. Everything that doesn’t pass through this distillation text is recycled back out into the community as fertilizer for local farmers. Each VAT holds 75,000 litres and holds roughly 7 million dollars’ worth of rum. From here, premium top shelf product can be stored in either Port, Sherry or Wine barrels to soak for further years to mature and accumulate the colour and taste of the wood. Now, finally you have rum! With each increase in Australia’s terror warning, the amount of tax Bundaberg Rum gives the government is so substantial that police will constantly be patrolling the grounds.

As with every Bundaberg Rum distillery tour – our day ended with tastings in the bar. From Blenders ’14 and ’15, to MDC Black Barrel ’04 and ’05. We put the numerous awards, and our livers, to the test!

The new released MDC Black Barrel – Distilled in 2005 instantly has the qualities of the American White Oak it has been aged in for 10 years. Smooth in the mouth, it was felt in the nose as it’s pure red glow complemented the raisin and caramel finish. It was a more refined and pulled-back version of the previous year’s release which had a forceful charred palette. Another favourite was their Small Batch release. It has just won a Double Gold award overseas which means that each of the 33 judges named it the best in a blind-taste testing. Imagine the odds of achieving such an honour.. It’s clear how it won too. It smoothly carries through the tones of the Cognac and Brandy barrels its been matured along with spiced honey hints.

The night before we met a die-hard fan who’d come from 600km away for the weekend’s release. If his love for all things rum wasn’t already noticeable by his travelling feat or his commentary on every type of rum we drank, his photo proof of taking the Banana and Toffee Royal Liqueur to McDonalds when he has pancakes probably sealed the deal. It makes sense why he does it too – it’s amazingly smooth and sweet with no burn. Both the banana and toffee flavours are richly detected. It’d make sense to put this on every desert…

Later that night as Antipodean Rock Collective closed out the festival. During a cover of The Masters Apprentices “It’s Because I Love You” it was noticed that Duncan had quit frantically answering urgent phone calls and was finally enjoying himself. Though his attention was not on the stage but instead on a group of Bundaberg Rum staff that had assembled close to the stage. He was smiling as he saw them dancing and taking selfies and finally enjoying themselves. Mostly locals, the festival staff were comprised of usual distillery workers who had been pulling late nights and early days for a week in advance. The concert was more than a party for them, it was a celebration of their brand. Bundaberg Rum is not only renowned in Australia, but now it’s top-shelf liquor is being internationally recognised and awarded.

You can read our review of The Spirit Of Bundaberg Festival here.

You can research and book tours as well as buy exclusive Bundaberg Rum products from their webstore here.


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