Written by Lizzie Macaulay
Oh, dear reader, how jealous you are going to be of me by the time I’m done telling you about my adventures this month…
There are so many experiences for this column that I’ve been looking forward to in the lead-up, but this one may just take the cake.
Enter: the fabulous Bundaberg Rum distillery.
I arrive at the iconic building – my first visit ever to the site – and immediately I’m greeted by the fabulous Paula.
It’s not long before I understand why we’ve been paired. Paula is not only the oracle of all things Bundy rum, she is deeply proud and passionate about what she does – who better to tell you the story of this tiny but mighty distillery?
Ok, realistically it’s not that tiny in stature, but my goodness, it’s incredible what a team of 32 staff can achieve on a global scale.
We tour through the public facing areas of the distillery and Paula takes me through the history of the brand, the awards, the reach, the fanatical collectors who simply live and breathe the Bundy brand (and who could blame them).
My favourite stop on the tour simply has to be the giant wall of Bundy bottles of all shapes, sizes and ages that tickles a particular symmetry appreciation spot in my brain.
We then head across to the restricted area where all the magic truly takes place.
Behind the scenes there are several large buildings fit for various stages of the distilling process. These are all overshadowed by the looming presence of the sugar mill next door that supplies the molasses that goes into the rum.
I’m struck by the ingenuity of the collaborative spirit the businesses embody, working collectively to benefit absolutely everybody. Very progressive, no?!
We make it to our final destination nestled deep in the heart of the grounds.
It just looks like another building from the outside, but once you’re through the doors you’re into this moody, atmospheric space that is textural, intricate, well thought out and the perfect setting for what we’re about to do.
Laying out on a table are 5 small glasses of different rums from various barrels, a large A3 info sheet with flavour notes and space to write your own thoughts, and some sciencey-looking bits and bobs that I’ll tell you about shortly.
Paula describes the process that we’re about to undertake, and it’s about now that it truly hits me – I’m about to drink neat rum… It’s a bit scary.
Admittedly, rum is something I’ve only recently begun to get a taste for – I’ve always been a white spirits type of gal, so this experience is completely refreshing for my unrefined rum palate.
I think that actually helps rather than hinders, though.
I take my first sip and desperately try to remain cool as I keep my eye on the notes in front of me.
I’m supposed to be tasting sweet, dried fruit, oakiness, and I taste: rum.
Paula assures me this is quite common for the first of these five samples to need a second pass as this is the moment of your palate awakening.
I’m dubious but I press on.
And of course, as we move to the next glass, she’s absolutely right.
From the ‘port barrel’, I get hits of flavour beyond the rum – definitely cloves, possibly more. It’s just like a wine tasting (which I’m equally ineffectual at for the most part).
We move through each of the samples – the sherry barrel, the port barrel, the bourbon barrel, the scotch barrel and the heavy charred.
It’s fascinating to me how different three base ingredients can taste simply by changing the vessel it’s stored in.
Now for the science part…
As I decide on my favourites, I begin the process of blending.
I have 7mLs to get the flavour profile right, based on what I’ve tasted from the 5 samples.
I take the eye dropper and draw up varying amounts of this and of that until I have, to my tastes, the perfect blend.
We then get to scaling up – 7mLs becomes 700!
It’s quite something to see it all come together, especially as part of the experience, you get to take away 2 whole bottles of your signature blend.
We finalise the whole process with an elegant bronze seal and a personalised label. I couldn’t be more chuffed.
On the side I note they have a batch and bottle number so any time I like, I can order it again – the team have a database of the exact mix of anyone who’s taken on the blending experience.
Paula tells me that there’s a wide array of uses for these incredible bottles – from corporate gifts to collectors’ items – and it’s easy to see their value.
As we finish up and wander back to the entrance, Paula takes a detour to show off the most historic building that remains after the fires of the 1930’s – the molasses pit.
It’s warm, smells incredible and essentially looks like something you really shouldn’t dive into, but you really want to all the same.
All in all this Blend Your Own experience was incredibly impressive. It’s rare enough to have a behind the scenes snoop into such a well-known brand’s operations. It something else entirely to be able to completely customise part of that brand’s product to take home with you, and order whenever the urge takes you.
I may not have been a big rum drinker before this experience, but I honestly believe this process has changed my preferences.
Having this deep an insight has made a big impact!