Multimillion-dollar Bundaberg Rum visitor centre now open
THE smell of aged rum lingers in the air and your eyes dart towards the giant 70-year-old oak vats as you enter the world-class facility in the heart of Bundaberg.
Bundaberg Rum Distillery has had a state-of-the-art renovation and its doors will open on Saturday.
The NewsMail has been fortunate to have a sneak peek inside to show our readers the transformation.
Senior brand manager Duncan Littler said the $8.5 million upgrade was three years in the making.
Mr Littler said the investment for a local company would help put Bundaberg on the world map as a number one destination to visit.
"We normally get about 60,000 people come through per year," he said.
"Over the years we want to build that to more than 100,000 people to come here every year."
Mr Littler said the business was proud of the role of the distillery in the community and said an interactive tour told "the story in a fun way - the Bundy way".
"Authenticity is the key; these two buildings are two old bond stores, we didn't pull them down and build a new building to tell the story of 127-year-old rum," he said.
"These were previously full of 75,000l vats and we have re-purposed some of them and people can walk through them to learn about the history of the rum."
Inside the renovated building is an experience like no other, telling the story of the "drink which changed the world".
You're taken to another time as you read the two-storey infographics, detailing the history of Australia's drink, which sailed into Botany Bay on the First Fleet.
Mr Littler said the tour included vats as well as original footbridges above you.
"Everything we have been able to leave, we have, and turned it in to something," he said.
"You learn about the history, the production process and the bear - everyone wants to know about the bear."
The history includes how the "brick"-shaped bottle came about, and a four- metre-high wall with more than 1000 different bottles of rum will mesmerise you.
The production process is explained, starting with the red soil which helps give Bundaberg Rum a flavour like no other.
"It's all to do with our region and the production process we use," Mr Littler said.
"It all starts with the red soil which grows the cane and we get here the type of molasses we get here," he said.
The tour moves to the yeast, which is a specific strand of yeast stored at the facility and makes the rum alcoholic.
"The yeast is a very important part and we are very specific about our yeast profile," Mr Littler said.
The story about the two fires, one in 1907 and the other in 1936 which burnt the distillery to the ground, are shared on the journey.
Walking through the vats, learning about the beloved drink as you go, the mind wonders and what may
take some half an hour could take another three to complete.
Bundaberg Rum was a name the world knew and Mr Littler encouraged the community to come down tomorrow at 10.30am to see what all the fuss was about.
BUNDABERG RUM HISTORY
1885: In 1885 Bundaberg was struck with a crippling molasses surplus. The town's people were up to their fob-watches and the syrupy problem began to overflow into the river.
On 1 August 1885, Mr Frederick William Buss, the owner of several sugar mills in the Bundaberg area, called a meeting to discuss the creation of a distillery. Buss led a group of sugar millers who had seen an opportunity to produce rum using molasses, which was being produced as a result of the sugar refining process. At this time, not enough funding was forthcoming and the distillery wasn't incorporated until three years later.
1888: Bundaberg Distillery is Born
The brainchild of seven Queenslanders, Bundaberg Distillery is established with an initial production team of only five men. Rum was already popular in Australia thanks to the First Fleet, but early distilling practices meant the taste left a lot to be desired.
1889: Why Start Small?
The first batch of Bundaberg Rum rolls off the production line - all 22,500 gallons of it.
1890: All or nothing...Bundy Heads West
A small supply of Bundaberg Rum is sent to Western Australia, where it goes down a treat. Sydney and Melbourne follow, establishing Bundaberg's national ambition early.
1890-93: Selling Out and Buying In
A crippling economic depression leads the new distillery into receivership. Backers buy the distillery and bring Bundaberg Rum back from the brink.
1907: First Fire at the Distillery
Breaking out in the Still House in the dead of night, it takes hours to put out and causes severe damage and ruins mass amounts of stock.
1936: Distillery goes up in Flames...Fish Drink for Free!
A lightning strike sparks an explosion and despite the efforts of hundreds of locals, the distillery is destroyed. As a result, millions of litres of molasses flow into the Burnett River, setting it alight and making for some deliciously marinated fish.
1939: The Distillery is Rebuilt
Three years of construction later, the Distillery is back to its former glory and is the same one you'll still see if you visit Bundaberg today.
1942: The Australian Government takes over all rum stocks for the armed forces, the Royal Navy and the US military. It was not available again till October 1943..
Whilst in Australia, American soldiers on rest and recreation during World War Two discovered Bundaberg Rum. They enjoyed drinking this with Cola, so the Bundaberg Rum Distillery came up with a solution - a mix of Bundaberg Rum and Cola in a bottle.
1961: The Prime Minster's Brother makes his mark on Bundy.
Sam McMahon, the gifted marketer and brother of future Australian PM, William McMahon, was responsible for some of Bundy's most iconic features - from the square bottle to the polar bear mascot. Ironically (or not), McMahon means 'Son Of Bear' in Irish.
1985: All on Black
The Bundaberg Distillers, for the first time, venture into premium rums by setting aside a vat of Bundaberg Rum for a decade of maturation. In 1995, it's sold as the premium, limited edition Bundaberg Black.
1993: 'twas a Dark & Stormy Night...
Recognising the popularity of two of Bundaberg's most famous products, rum and ginger beer, the distillers combine them into one bottle. Called the Dark & Stormy, it is still one of the most popular combinations today.
2008: Seeing Red
Bundaberg Red lands. Filtered through Red Gum for extra smoothness and it's a game-changer for the rum market in Australia.
2010: Birth of the Master Distillers' Collective
Born out of the ingenuity of the expert craftspeople working at the distillery, The Master Distillers' Collection premium rum series is born and begins to collect gold and double medals from multiple spirit competitions across the globe.
2013: Road to Recovery
Queensland is hit by a second devastating flood in only three years. To help the community, Bundaberg Rum release a limited edition range called Road to Recovery that can only be purchased from the distillery, driving people to the region to lend a helping hand, whilst raising vital funds for those affected. Each bottle bears the name of a flood-affected street and sales raise over $250,000 for flood relief.
2014: Age Ain't Nothing But a Number
Bundaberg Rum celebrates its 125th anniversary with a special release - the ultra premium Bundaberg Distillery Company (BDC) 125th Anniversary Rum. Originally on sale for $1,250, IF you're lucky enough to find a bottle for sale today it'll likely set you back over $5,000!
2016: World's Best Rum
Bundaberg Blenders Edition 2015 is named the World's Best Rum (and Best Dark Rum) at the 2016 World Drinks Awards. It's the first time an Australian brand has taken the overall title and firmly puts Australian rum on the global map. Bundaberg Rum Small Batch also received the accolade for World's Best Gold Rum at the same competition.