Visit Bundaberg, the rum capital of Australia for a chance to blend your own signature rum at the award-winning Bundaberg Rum Distillery.
A rum history
Australians have had a taste for rum since the earliest days of European settlement. Once Sydney town’s major currency, soldiers were the merchants and hence their more colourful nickname – the Rum Corps. It was also at the centre of Australia’s only military coup d’état – The Rum Rebellion saw the Queen’s representative, Governor William Bligh, overthrown in 1808. Some might say rum runs deep in our national history.
Fast forward to 1872, hardy pioneering stock (descendants of the rum soldiers and convicts) moved further north to grow sugar. Where there’s sugar, there’s molasses and when you have molasses you can make rum. In 1889, the first batch of Bundaberg Rum rolled off the production lines and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, a visit to the Queensland home of Australia’s most well-known rum is a popular pilgrimage for tourists from around the world – three of its blends have won prestigious ‘World’s Best’ awards, including the Bundaberg Rum Solera which was judged World’s Best Dark Rum in 2017 (and is available at Lotte Duty Free at Brisbane Airport International Terminal). A multi-million dollar upgrade to its visitor facilities a few years ago added a museum and a ‘Blend Your Own Rum’ experience to the already popular distillery tour.
Take a tour
The guided distillery tour is all about deep, rich, mahogany rum colours and sweet, toffee and molasses scents. Molasses is pumped underground from the sugar refinery and we look into a vast well of it as we ‘walk through’ the complex rum production process and its rigorous quality controls.
In the museum we walk between an impressive 75,000 oak vats, where hundreds of thousands of litres of ‘Bundy’ once sat over the years, and admire the world’s largest collection of rum bottles. But it’s the ‘Blend Your Own Rum’ experience that brings us closer to the craft.
Bundaberg Rum Blendatorium is part science lab, part old world distillery (think Frankenstein without the horror and lots of delicious, oaky tastes and sweet scents). Each ‘blender’ has five glasses with premium rums aged in small oak barrels that were previously home to Bourbon, Sherry, Port and Scotch. Each is subtly different, from the sweet vanilla hints of the Bourbon to smoky, dark peaty Scotch barrels. The Heavy Charred American Oak Barrel aged rum is woody with caramel tones.
It feels a little ‘mad scientist’ with all the pipettes, carafes, beakers and graduated cylinders and using the 10 blending ‘commandments’ as the guide we mix and match flavour profiles until we ultimately craft our own bespoke blend from barrel to the bottle.
My blend is 2.5 parts Bourbon for sweetness and a hint of vanilla, two parts Sherry for the dried fruit, one part Port for a little fruit cake with one part of peaty Scotch for the unmistakable touch of smoke.
The experience is not only for die-hard Bundy fans. It is a hands-on way to understand the craft of rum making with the bonus of two personalised bottles of your own blend to take home.
While you’re in Bundaberg…
Take a hike
Local bushwalking guide Moira Thompson has some tips for walks not far from town, from the hour-long walk to the top of Mount Walsh, which includes a bit of scrambling to get to the peak but the view from the top is worth it, to the track through rainforest to a 600-metre peak in Woowoonga National Park that is popular for Kokoda Track training.
But for more than panoramic views travel a bit further for a glimpse at the remnants of ancient landscape. Just over 100km away, at Coalstoun Lakes National Park, there’s a short 200-metre walk to the top of the crater of an extinct volcano, and venture on to Cania Gorge National Park where towering sandstone cliffs and ancient caves are the striking result of centuries of weathering and erosion.
The park also protects a valuable remnant of Aboriginal freehand art and varied habitats for wildlife. There are at least eight graded walking tracks, from an easy 300 metres to the all-day 22km trek for experienced hikers, to view a landscape that continues to be sculpted slowly by the effects of wind and water.
Swim with turtles
Once you have seen the hatchlings at Mon Repos, you’ll want to swim with the grown-ups in the crystal clear waters of the Southern Great Barrier Reef and it’s as easy as a boat trip to Lady Musgrave Island where turtles play year-round.
Cider House rules
Drop in for a cool refresher at Ohana Cider House and Tropical Winery, where 20-somethings Josh Phillips and Zoe Young are producing award-winners such as Cheeky Tiki Dry and Tiki Sweet ciders (among others), Lychee and Pineapple wines, and the very exotic Jabotica liqueur. Tastings Tuesday to Sunday.
Taste the local produce
The rich, red volcanic soil of the Bundaberg region is not only the foundation for growing some of the finest sugar cane in the world, a key ingredient for making some of the best rum in the world, it also supports a farming community growing all sorts of produce from micro herbs to exotic fruits, veg and macadamia nuts, as well as cider orchards and vineyards. Bundy Food Tours take visitors behind the scenes to meet farmers, fishermen, bakers, brewers and more with some delicious tasting along the way.
Di Wills is Bundy-born but was inspired by her own travels to unlock some of the local stories to share with visitors; all she had to do was find them. After much talking over tea with long-time locals like herself, Wills and a team of welcoming guides have plenty to entertain on a two-hour (or 4000 steps if you’re counting) walking tour of the town centre, from the river to the laneways, alcoves and arcades of the CBD.
The stories are a mix of fact and folklore, history and heroics, from black plague to rogue cows, and the eccentric charm of Queenie who was as famous around town back in the day as her aviation pioneer brother Bert Hinkler (there’s a museum in his honour in the Botanic Gardens). Check times with the Bundaberg Visitor Information Centre.