Bundaberg Mayor Mal Forman and Bundaberg Distillery Company marketing manager Andrew Oughton celebrate the opening of Barrel house with a glass of the finest drop in town.
Bundaberg Mayor Mal Forman and Bundaberg Distillery Company marketing manager Andrew Oughton celebrate the opening of Barrel house with a glass of the finest drop in town. Max Fleet

Secrets brewing in Barrel House

DEEP in the bowels of the Bundaberg Rum Factory, late at night, a group of worldly master distillers sit around vat upon vat upon of liquor.

They are charged with the not-so-onerous task of trying every rum, all of them, each a subtle variation on Bundaberg rum in the hope of finding the company's next commercial product.

Like a master chef, their instruments and ingredients are many and varied.

Each take is different from the last. Each rum has a subtle nuance.

Their palates have been sharpened by years of experience, their mind a catalogue of every strand of the liquor.

They are able to dissect each new offering and precisely catalogue it in the entomology of rum.

Their heads swim after nip upon nip. However they do not exhibit the effects.

For they are not just-out-of school first-time drinkers with a 10-pack of pre-mixed spirits. They are captains of industry.

It sounds like a male fantasy. Or perhaps the premise of a humorous marketing campaign aimed at 18 to 39-year-old males with disposable income espousing the nobility of rum.

Yet, it is not that far removed from reality. This reporter has seen it with his own eyes.

What the Bundaberg Bear has up its sleeve

The Bundaberg Rum Factory, located in the Wide Bay city of Bundaberg, about a three-and-a-half hour drive north of the Sunshine Coast, has recently added a new feather to its cap - The Barrel House.

Out the front of the house is the public veneer.

The part of the facility which will be viewed by tourists, hundreds of them every day.

It promotes all manner of Bundaberg Rum's new line of products - the Masters Distillers' Collective range.

However, behind the public facade is a very real and very working boutique rum workshop.

To properly understand the importance of The Barrel House is to understand the rum-making process.

Upon distillation most rums taste the same. It is not until the liquor is aged in a vat that it begins to take on most of its flavour and quality.

In fact the Bundaberg Rum distillers estimate that their liquor takes on 80 to 90% of its characteristic in the time that it spends in wooden barrels.

The Bundaberg Rum that is familiar to most people is aged in very specific barrels, from wood imported from the Appalachian Mountains in the US.

To alter the storage process - even slightly - would be to alter the end product.

For the past three years Bundaberg Rum has been playing with the idea that if they store their rums in different barrels they will be able to come up with new and boutique products.

The public has seen the fruits of their labour in the company's line of Master Distillers' Collective products - which so far includes three liquors.

While Bundaberg Rum will not tinker with its existing product - and why would they seeing it is the county's No.2 liquor and No.1 rum - it is spreading its wings.

I am given a glimpse into what the future might hold for Bundaberg Rum as I am taken behind closed doors at the Bundaberg Rum Barrel House.

For the past few years the company has branched out into special edition and limited release products. However it is cagey when pressed on exactly what the future holds.

I ask Bundaberg Rum head of production Deane Flett just how many special products he is working on.

"We've got a few things up our sleeve," he says with a wry smile.

While Mr Flett is keeping things close to his chest, partly because most of the projects will never see the light of day, I am allowed a taste.

I am given a guided tour of the Barrel House and am shown the tools with which Bundaberg Rum is tinkering; wine barrels, port barrels, bourbon barrels, and handmade charred oaks barrels.

While most lay people would not be able to distinguish between the types of wood on sight, it is plain as day once you taste the end product.

The liquor's ability to take on the qualities of the wood it is stored in is quite stark and surprising.

I am promised that this is the tip of the iceberg - that one day the company will offer all manner of products.


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