Artisanal. Bespoke. Hand crafted. When launching a new drinks brand onto today’s marketplace these three terms need to be artfully littered through the promotional bumf. Millennials of the smashed avocado munching variety demand a heavy whiff of “authenticity” with their evening tipple – whether that’s the latest small batch gin from a decaying inner-city slum or an unfiltered cider from a remote Tasmanian farmhouse.
So how does a mainstream drinks brand like Bundaberg Rum muscle its way onto shelves already groaning with bespoke, often obscure, bottles of high-priced rums from the Caribbean, Central and South America and the United States?
This is exactly the question I asked Duncan Littler, brand manager at the Bundaberg Distilling Company, when we met up at the Australian Tourism Exchange (ATE) in Sydney earlier this month – the new $8.5 million Bundaberg Visitor Centre in Queensland attracts 60,000 people a year, making it the city’s biggest tourist attraction.
“About six years ago we started looking into what it would take for Bundaberg to make rums that would rival the best in the world,” he said. “And the good news is that we are now doing that.”
For much of its 129-year history Bundaberg has made only one type of dark rum, Bundaberg Original, which has strong following among die-hard Bundy drinkers, but limited appeal to mixologists and globe trotting hipsters.
The company began developing a range of premium, barrel-aged rums which might appeal to those with a more discerning palate. The results have been impressive – Bundaberg rums have shone at many international drinks competitions, including the World Drinks Awards in London.
“We’ve won a number of major awards,” said Duncan. “Most recently we picked up an award for the World’s Best Dark Rum for our Solera release – last year we won World’s Best Dark Rum, World’s Best Gold Rum and World’s Best Rum.”
As part of its branding upgrade, Bundaberg opened a brand new visitor centre in 2016 – the impressive facility houses a museum, a retail outlet, tasting room and ‘Blendatorium’ where rum lovers can create their own signature blend – the Blend Your Own experience is world first for rum.
“Under the guidance of our expert blending guides you are given five rums which have been matured in port, sherry, bourbon, Scotch and heavily charred American oak barrels. None of these can’t be purchased by the public,” according to Duncan.
“We teach you about these special rums and the art of blending. Then you create your own special blend. Your blend is then bottled, capped and labeled and the formula is stored for future reference. Additional bottles of this unique blend will then be shipped to your house on request.”
The Blend Your Own Rum Experience is just one of several tours available at the Bundaberg Visitor Centre, but at $250 per person this two-and-half hour immersive rum experience represents pretty good value. Apart from two bottles of your own personalized rum to take home, the tariff includes a free rum tasting and a tour of the museum.
“You’ll also get to see the Great Wall of Bundy,” says Duncan. “We have the world’s biggest collection of Bundy, with over 1000 unique bottles. It’s pretty impressive.”
Bundaberg Rum Visitor Centre, Hills Street, Bundaberg, Queensland 4670. Opens Monday to Friday 10am-5pm. www.bundabergrum.com.au