Barman making cocktail with Bundaberg rum

In early September, nearly 30 of Australia’s top bartending talent were invited on a ‘money can’t buy’, three-day experience to mark Bundaberg’s 130th birthday. After visiting the numerous farms that dot the Bundaberg region – and enjoying a behind-the-scenes distillery tour – attendees were also invited to blend their very own rum to bring back to their bar.

Man at a party proudly showing T-shirt with Bundy bear on it
Daniel Hilton (Lobo Plantation) gets in the spirit of things

While the ‘Blend Your Own Rum Experience’ is open to the public, this was possibly a more experienced cohort than Bundy would usually welcome – and the bartenders brought their blending A game. Sipping and sniffing their way through five different barrel finishes (sherry, port, bourbon, peated scotch and heavy charred American oak), careful experimentation was the key to success. Some, like Rockpool Dining Group’s Ryan Gavin, went in with a firm idea of the rum they were after – in his case, a tiki-style “with a bit of spice and a bit of backbone”; others, like Marshall King from the Pink Moon Saloon in Adelaide, aimed at versatility, and “something to mix with and put out some serious volume through summer”. Each bar will also be able to re-order their exact blend, with the distillery keeping the cask ratios on file for future reference.

Two men sitting on a bar trying various rums
Pasan Wijesena (Jacoby’s) and Dale School (Earl’s Juke Joint)
Man smelling rum in his glass
Ryan Lane (The Gresham)

According to Charmaine Glase, Senior Communications Manager at Diageo, the trip was also “an opportunity to remind everyone that we’re the originals in Australia”.

“It’s so exciting to see cocktail culture really explode, and these bars [who attended the trip] are a sign of how much consumers are interested in spirits and cocktail culture”, Glase told BARS&clubs. “This trip reminds them that we’re making some incredible rums and have been doing so right here in everyone’s backyard – and just takes those perceptions that might exist and shifts them a little bit”.

“A lot of people know Bundy UP so well, and they know the Bundy bear, but they don’t really know the single estate distillery story – and I think this trip has really opened some eyes,” she added. “We have real confidence in the quality of the rum, and we know it’s as good as we say it is, so it’s just about sharing it”.

Man holding a bottle of Bundaberg rum and a glass

It was clear that this message was one that all in attendance would take home with them. Pasan Wijesena (Jacoby’s and Earl’s Juke Joint, and also our cover star for this issue of BARS&clubs), said the trip had increased his appreciation of Bundy. “Most cocktail bars don’t sell much Bundy… [but] seeing where it’s made, and understanding where it’s from and how it is an expression of terroir, can only ever increase your appreciation of it”.

“I’ve personally come away from Bundaberg with a real appreciation for now only the distillery, but also the agricultural importance of the region,” added The Baxter Inn’s Tynan Sidhu. “Bundaberg Rum is a truly iconic Aussie brand, and we tasted some seriously delicious casks which would quickly silence the haters”. However, it was Bad Frankie owner and Australian spirits expert Seb Costello who perhaps summed it up best: “When you think of big brands you think that there’s no soul behind it, but there was a lot of soul behind Bundaberg which was great to see”. Bespoke blended rum in hand, one final surprise would await the bartenders. As part of the birthday festivities, and as the culmination of a truly gourmet farewell dinner, Bundaberg also announced the launch of a new spiced rum. Those lucky enough to be in attendance were the first in Australia to try the new Bundaberg Rum Small Batch Spiced, which officially launched at the Spirit of Bundaberg Festival on 13 October.

Image showing crowd gathered in front of Bundaberg rum distillery
The distillery tour was a highlight of the trip

Click here for BARS&clubs’ full tasting notes for the new Small Batch Spiced as part of their Category Spotlight photoshoot.

Click here for original article written by Tam Allenby for BARS&clubs Spring 2018 issue.

Lead Photo credit: Simon Taylor