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Published: July 28th 2014
We had a rather late sandwich lunch at a picnic table under some trees in the gardens watching the birds as usual. Ros and Arthur came past as we were packing up and we said goodbye.
Our next stop was the last tour of the BDC (Bundaberg Distilling Company) Bondstore, where Bundaberg Rum is made. We had a few minutes to look at the information boards in the entrance area, and take a photo of the Bundaberg Polar Bear, who resides in a glass case there. Then we were met by our guide, Sam, who gave us a speech about safety (must have enclosed shoes, stay with the group etc.) that had one rather unusual part to it. We had to take off and put into lockers, anything that had electronics or batteries, including our watches, cameras, phones, even electronic car keys. We were told there were a lot of alcohol fumes in the Bondstore and only equipment that has been checked and cleared by their electricians as safe is allowed in the area. We had seen photo-boards in the foyer of the two times the company had suffered catastrophic fires and had to be rebuilt, so it was understandable. The
first was in 1907 and the second in 1936, caused by a lightning strike, meant the factory was out of action for a year. Unfortunately, no camera meant I couldn’t take any photos inside the plant.
The company was started in 1888 by a group of sugar millers, led by Frederick Buss, who had huge amounts of molasses, from the sugar refining process, and no market for it. One of them, the Millaquin Sugar Mill, sits right next to the distillery and, although Bundaberg is now no longer owned by the mills, it still has a strong relationship with them. Steam from the mill is used in the distilling process and, of course, all the molasses comes from the mill.
Our first stop on the tour was outside the molasses store. We were given a taste of some on a stick - I tasted thick black treacle, which I like and use occasionally, and Barry tasted licorice, both of which are made from molasses. We then went to look in one of the storage vats, the oldest one built of concrete. It should have been full to the brim but had developed a leak that was found a few days
Millaquin Sugar Mill
This mill was one of the companies that originally founded the distillery. It is right next door and supplies the molasses used to make the rum and some steam to heat the stills.
ago so it was empty, cleaned out and there was a very tall ladder standing on the floor near the site of the repairs that were underway. The vat was enormous, both in surface area and depth. The ladder, a long one, looked dwarfed in there. I heard someone say they were disappointed not to see the molasses but I thought we had a much better idea of the huge quantity, 5 million litres, it could hold by seeing it empty, rather than as a big black pool. And this was only one of their vats, the others now being modern stainless steel.
The molasses is drawn off into smaller vats, combined with a very special yeast, and allowed to ferment for 12 hours. The yeast they use is a top secret and was developed at the company and is produced by them in their laboratories. A small amount, 2 kilos, is put into a little vat and allowed to grow. It ends up producing 5,000 kilos in just 2 days, enough to fill 4 large vats. We saw the vats through a window. Sam told us that it grows so fast it produces too much heat, which would kill
The Bondstore Bar
This was definitely a highlight of the tour, full of different rums we'd never heard of before to try. Our favourite was Royal Liqueur Rum, with chocolate and coffee flavours in it.
it, so they have to cool the outside of the vats by running cold water over them.
It is then heated with steam from the mill to evaporate the alcohol. This vapour is condensed and collected and at this stage is about 8% proof alcohol. This evaporating and condensing process is done three more times, with water “washing” it and removing any impurities and the alcohol being drawn off at different levels in the still, as required, to produce the final product, which is around 87% proof. We walked through the stills area and looked through glass windows at what was happening.
The yeasty mixture that is left after the evaporation of the alcohol is called Dunder. It is very rich in nutrients and so is used by the sugar farmers on their cane fields (Sam said they give it away, which gets rid of waste with no charge to them and benefits the company as the farmers have higher yields. I read on a board somewhere that they sell it – don’t know which is true. It would be nice to think the first is!) One farmer told Sam that they like to mix it with water and
The outside view of the Distillery
This is all we had as we had to give up our cameras before entering the complex, for fire safety reasons.
spray it onto the young plants as it acts as an insect repellent and they don’t need to use chemical sprays. Very useful waste!
Next we walked through an enormous wooden barrel that had been used in the past but had now been turned into an attraction so we could experience the inside and look down through the glass floor at the rum flowing beneath our feet. Some people were worried the glass would break.
Rum in Australia has to mature for one year in barrels so the alcohol is then put into them and stored. They use barrels that have previously been used to store other alcohol, particularly whiskey and red wine, as this gives it a unique and richer flavour and colour. They have recently started experimenting with using other barrels, like port and sherry ones, and with adding spices, or chocolate and coffee. They have also started entering these special rums into international competitions and are doing well, winning some gold and silver ones. They are keen to break into the world market, because at present 95% of their rum is sold here in Australia and the rest is found in New Zealand, UK and Canada.
final, and definitely tastiest, part of the tour was the bar. Part of our $22 (Seniors rate) fee was two full size tots of rum. The trouble was there were so many varieties we had never heard of that it was hard to choose which two! In the end Barry and I conferred and chose different ones that we were curious about and sampled all four. We started with one that had been matured in both port and wine barrels – it was OK but nothing special. Then we tried Spiced Rum, which was really delicious. By this time I was feeling the alcohol and we still had two more to go – I was also worried about Barry getting over the limit to drive – so we had a mixer of rum and ginger beer. The Bundaberg Ginger Beer Company has worked with Bundy Rum to produce four new mixers, the others being mango, passionfruit and caramel. The ginger beer one was very tasty but you couldn’t really taste the rum as it was dominated by the strength of the ginger.
We’d saved the best till last – Royal Liqueur Rum, with chocolate and coffee added. It was absolutely wonderful, smooth and very tasty. Unfortunately, it can only be bought at the distillery or on-line in a case of 12 bottles. I decided to treat us to one bottle while we were here, as we’ll never be able to afford a dozen, when one was $45! We’d better make it last.
What an interesting and packed day we’d had (followed by some boring food shopping at IGA – but at least I was still rum-happy!). I certainly slept well after dinner, with all that exercise and the rum on top!
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