It's a rum revolution

You don't need a history lesson to know that since the earliest days of the struggling New South Wales colony, Australia has been awash with rum.

The quality of what was being traded in Sydney Cove from ships that had rounded Cape Horn in the early 19th century was likely not great. In fact, I'll personally guarantee you that it was pretty rotgut stuff. 200 years later though and the rums of the Caribbean and South America have become gentrified sippers celebrated the world over.

While there's still a way to go with local rum brands, there seems to be a genuine commitment to developing liquids that will compete in the quality stakes with the world's best. You might say that Australia is seeing a sort of rum revolution.

Since 1884, When Australia issued its first license to distil spirits to Queensland's Beenleigh Distillery we've had a taste for local rum. The biggest success story comes from the Bundaberg Distilling Company which had a rough ride to get where it is today having beaten distillery fires and floods. It's a much loved Aussie icon – the epitome of the Aussie battler. Bundaberg as long been the producer Australia's best-selling rum and enjoys approximately 90 per cent of the rum market on these shores.

Despite having a model which is obviously working for them volume-wise, Bundaberg has been disappearing off the shelves of many of that nation's top cocktail bars in favour of imported brands. But the brand has plans for curbing this trend.

The Bundaberg Distilling Company has been seriously investing in the development of new more premium rums to get bartenders and aficionados on side. In 2009, the Bundaberg team developed their Master Distillers' Collective to develop, age and blend hand-crafted liquids to rival the best boutique rums in the world. What this primarily involves is wood and lots of it.

You see by Australian law you are not allowed to put the word 'rum' on a bottle should it be aged in wood barrels or vats for less than two years. That's fair dinkum – raw 'rum' straight off the stills is pretty fiery stuff, but one thing the law doesn't mention is the size of said vat. The majority of vats at Bundaberg Rum sit at around 55,000 to 70,000 litres, so while the spirits are given a chance to mellow there's very little flavour imparted from the wood. But times are a changing.

Bundaberg have sourced smaller barrels (closer to 200 litres) from all over the globe – bourbon barrels from America, Cognac from France and Sherry from Spain all in a bid to develop a new line of extensively aged limited release Bundaberg rums for serious aficionados. The Master Distillers' Collective rums have been met with critical success at global spirits competitions.

Matt Bruhn, director of Bundaberg Distilling Co. says: "Only ideas which are genius become rums in the Master Distillers' Collective, and we look forward to seeing what future inventions our exceptional team of distillers, bondsmen and expert blenders come up with next."


Australian producers are also investing in higher quality rum. Inner Circle Rum, recently acquired by the Australian owned and operated Vok Beverages is now being produced at the Beenleigh distillery in Queensland. Until recently the rum brand which started life at the Colonial Sugar Refinery in Pyrmont, Sydney, was produced in Fiji and bottled in New Zealand before being shipped back to Australia for sale.

Blake Kramer, brand manager for the Inner Circle Rum brand, tells us that the move back to Australia alone has had an impact on the product.

"[Inner Circle] is now produced using locally sourced molasses, which is one of the key ingredients that will affect the flavour profile of rum," explains Kramer. "The old Inner Circle Rum was produced from Fijian molasses, which is less refined... The Australian molasses is more refined due to the production process, which imparts a cleaner flavoured rum."

"Given that Inner Circle Rum now is produced at the Beenleigh distillery we have the flexibility to quickly diversify our production methods and trial multiple aging options.  Small batch barrels is something we are exploring with the Master Blender, Wayne Stewart," adds Kramer.

By all accounts there's a bright future for Australian rum. Soon enough you'll pass on the Cuban, Barbadian or Jamaican for a bottle of real Aussie gold.

I Still Call Australia Home

30ml Inner Circle Green Dot Rum
10ml Tamborine Mountain Distillery Choc Hazelnut Liqueur
330ml Barons Black Wattle Original Ale

Build ingredients in a tankard over ice. Garnish with a gumnut and a brooding criminal past.

Created by Ben Shipley from Everyday Drinking.

This article It's a rum revolution was originally published in The Sydney Morning Herald.