I had thought Bundaberg was just the name of a brand of rum. I didn’t know it was the town where the rum was first made. We decided not to stay in the town but about 10k out at a scout camp.
The camp looked old and run down with trees everywhere making it hard to get into a spot with our van. As it cost only $5 per person per night and there were hot showers we were ready to give it a go. We had to be careful with how we manoeuvred the van. It was touch and go there for a moment with me running around the back of the van to both sides trying to make sure we weren’t hitting anything then letting Adrian know where I was and what my instruction were for him. Fun times.
When we had parked up we walk around the campground and saw a climbing wall and fire pit. There was a large camp kitchen, which was roped off. The camp was set up quite well for a lot of screaming children.
The next day it was in to town for a tour of the Bundaberg factory. Neither Adrian or I are rum drinkers but when you are traveling around there are some things you just have to do and today’s was going to the Bundy factory.
With drought and falling sugar prices in the area, the town of Bundaberg thought they would be heading into hard times. Frederick Buss started to focus on the huge quantity of molasses going to waste every year and started to have an idea. At the time Bundaberg was producing 20% of all the sugar in Australia. Frederick noticed the molasses was being poured into the Burnett River or thrown onto the land to kill indigenous grasses. Why not make something great from a waste product? Forty gallons of molasses is produced for every ton of sugar manufactured. Just two gallons of that molasses can produce one gallon of rum. It seemed a great idea.
Nine men came together on the night of 1 August 1888 and made a decision. It wasn’t long before a ‘State of the art’ distillery was built to take advantage of all that molasses from the 40+ sugar mills in the area. The factory first started distilling ‘a standard rum’ with a 37% alcohol content. It also produced ‘an overproof rum’ of 57.1%. At the time the government regulations allowed the rum to be sold the moment it was manufactured. (In 1906 regulations were brought in requiring rum to be matured in wood for two years before sale. Don’t ask me why, it’s not something I have thought about.)
The molasses is made by spinning the juice of the sugar cane to extract the sugar crystals, what is left is the molasses. It is still high in sugar and this is the main raw material for the rum. During the sugar season over 10 million litres (enough to fill four Olympic swimming pools and then some) of molasses is pumped into an underground storage area at the distillery. From there set amounts are added to vats where the process begins. Water and a special strain of yeast makes up the recipe. That special yeast gives the rum its distinctive flavour. The yeast is so important that reserve yeast culture samples are held in the National Collection of Yeast Cultures in Norwich, England. Once a year, every year a fresh batch of yeast is sent to the factory where it is treated like royalty and well looked after.
When the distillery first started to sell the end product it used only word of mouth to sell the rum and it sold very well that way. To start with it was sold in barrels to agents who them had to bottle it themselves and place the Bundy label on it.
It wasn’t until William McMahon (who later became Prime Minister of Australia) offered to sell everything Bundaberg to “all the world except Queensland” and as the distillery didn’t sell anywhere out of Queensland it was an offer too good to refuse. The first step was to design a label and bottle for the rum. This was left up to Samuel McMahon (William’s brother.) It was touch and go with the idea of placing a Polar bear as the mascot, after all we have some fantastic animals why not chose one of them? (FYI: we don’t have bears in Australian and no the Koala is not a bear.) There has been a lot of debate as to why the bear is there. It comes down to the designer Samuel being Irish. In Island, ‘McMahon’ means ‘son of bear.’ It was Sam’s way of imprinting himself onto ever bottle.
It is said that one of the reasons Bundy became so popular was because it became the workingman’s drink. The story goes that Sam drove around rural Australia in an elegant Bentley that was once owned by the Governor of WA. Sam would pull up outside of a pub in a small country town. Take a bottle from the boot, walk into the pub and present the publican with the bottle then he would offer to shout the bar, Bundy for everyone.
There were a lot of us in the tour. We were not permitted to take anything with us as part of the tour took us over some of the molasses storage area so no cameras, so no photos (they didn’t want anything falling into the molasses.) We went in and out off different buildings and saw different vats at different stages of development or should I say fermentation. We tasted the molasses that was used in the making of the rum. We heard all about the different styles of rum and the history of making it in Australia and at the end of the tour we were given the chance to sample some. Each adult could choose to taste 3 of the rums each. We all went for the good stuff none of the pre mixes for us; we could have that any day.
(FYI: Bundy was one of the first companies to sell mixed drinks. It came about during the Second World War. Bundy Rum was given to the Australian soldiers and of course the sailors, (some Royal Navy vessels carried over 5,000 gallons to cover the sailors’ daily tot.) Many of the American military that came to Australia for R&R would mix cola with their rum and the rest they say is history.)
For non-Bundy drinkers like Adrian and myself, I can say we did enjoy the tasting, so much so that I came away with three bottles of rum in a gift pack. I told Adrian they were Christmas presents (I didn’t tell him they were for me. You get better present if you buy them yourself.)
We really enjoyed the tour. We were dropped off and picked up by our own driver. Why? We had put the car in for a service and the Ford Dealer was kind enough to do the driving for us. It worked in well. I am sure there were other things to see and do in the town but that was all for us. We moved on the next day.