G’day guys and welcome to my site’s first article on rum. And in the tradition of my site I am going with Australian made first and foremost. I was a little disappointed when I tried Teeling Irish whiskey that after it’s bragging of being oaked for a short period in Flor de Cana barrels that it never once resembled any taste of rum, and it made me aware of how long it had been since I had a decent drink of rum, so I went back to the last bottle I liked, and learnt a few things this time I didn’t know the first time I had it in the pub. This label, named after one of bigger cities in the Wide Bay region: Bundaberg, is one with which I have great familiarity with. Even before I was old enough to drink I knew the smell of Bundaberg rum distinctively from family gatherings, like Christmas and Easter. Bundaberg rum is vastly popular throughout the region, and by the nation.
In every pub, hotel, bottle shop, and liquor store I’ve ever been to they all have Bundaberg rum, even down in Tasmania. Admittedly, like the imported big name hard liquors; the three wise men (Jim Beam, Jack Daniels, Johnnie Walker), Bacardi, Russian Standard and José Cuervo, the vast majority on tap in pubs is the baseline cocktail spirit, a spirit of overly potent taste brewed to compete with the taste of Coke, ginger beer, lime juice, fruit juice or whatever it is you don’t want to look at again the next morning without dry retching. But like a lot of other labels, while they can easily coast along on the money flowing in from teenagers, stag nights, Friday nights and the pub, they want to let it be known that their label is not just a mixer and bring out a more top-shelf premium version of their liquor. This is Bundaberg’s. Fairly recently they’ve brought out a new range called their “Master Distiller’s” range to show their real abilities to create great rum. And by extension the true previously-untapped potential of Australian sugarcane, a wealthy Australian industry that’s evidence of success is unavoidable. I personally drive past kilometers of sugarcane fields daily just to get into town. Every winter the harvest for the sugarcane mill sweeps the town, combine harvesters crushing the cane, spouting the threshed cane into trucks that race through town, littering the streets with cane shafts spreading the thick familiar smell of molasses all over town. Sugarcane has been a rich industry in Australia since it was introduced into the country in the Eighteenth century, to the extent that the crop was farmed in excess to demand. From that point, it was only a matter of time before the thought crossed the mind of employees of the sugarcane industry to take the surplus harvested molasses and ferment and distill it into rum. Officially the Bundaberg Distilling Company began in eighteen-eighty-six, and operated mostly without incident except when it shut down due to fires, from nineteen-oh-seven to nineteen-fourteen, and again from nineteen-thirty-six to nineteen-thirty-nine. The second time spilling rum into the Burnett River. And then in nineteen-sixty-one, the label introduced it’s beloved mascot, the polar bear, to imply their rum could ward off the coldest chill…should by some miracle cold weather need to actually be prepared for. Which brings us up to two-thousand-eleven when the Master Distiller’s range was rolled out, a date at which I was still in high school, winning a wide range of awards at home and overseas. This bottle, the Small Batch is the baseline bottle in the Master Distiller’s lineup. I tried this rum for the first time sometime last year in a pub in Maryborough and liked it a lot. So let’s try it again now here.
The bottle is built solidly in both shape and style, like an old brick house. A thick glass bottom and walls. Like a decanter had a child with the standard Bundaberg underproof bottle. Like that of a more expensive bottle of Scotch or Cognac. Impressive, especially since they gave themselves room to grow. Right on the bottle it’s labelled it’s oaked in brandy and Cognac barrels. Unusually highbrow for a label from the Wide Bay, that also sells premixed cans. Humbling to think our own local boy, Bundy rum, is in possession of barrels from the Cognac, that once held eaux-de-vie, a very highbrow spirit indeed enjoyed worldwide by the rich. The rum inside the bottle is a deep, thick iridescent dark red. Identical to the fine rud bulldust roads typical of the sugarcane fields of the region I used to play in as a small child. The closer, a cork, given the impression it’s made so far this is to be expected. The nose, that old familiar pungence of Bundaberg rum, strong bittersweet and thick of churned up fermented Queensland molasses, with a subtle hint of brandy. As I pour it over ice, the nose calms to a mellow nose faint and sweeter of raw sugar. I take a sip, and it’s calm sweet and smooth. Like honey, molasses, maple syrup, and brown sugar. Though there is an undertone of oak, it isn’t one I’d associate with Cognac or any other brandy, more like an untoasted American oak. The taste is typically bold, full-bodied, thick in flavour.
So in closing: I had high hopes that this rum would be the hero of the label, a more refined rendition of the polar bear for lovers of unmixed spirits. So that I could happily enjoy the Wide Bay region’s best exploits properly without mixers. And they’ve pulled it off. It didn’t take a large helping of Australian ingenuity to turn a mixer into a proper straight-sipping domestic rum to obviate the Central American, Carribean and Pacific imported rums. But what impresses and assures me is they daren’t stop just there. I remind you, this bottle is the baseline bottle in the range. This isn’t even close to as good as they can do. Regrettably, I’m not a regular rum drinker, it never really grabbed my attention before now. But now that I’ve seen how good indeed true rum can be, I intend to remedy this. And I’ll pour myself another. Cheers