• The gorgeous barrel room for Bundaberg’s higher-end products. (Northern Pictures)Source: Northern Pictures
This is the factory churning out 130 bottles per minute to feed Australia's annual five million case habit.
By
Jeremy Cassar

4 Mar 2019 - 11:46 AM  UPDATED 5 Mar 2019 - 10:21 AM

Megafactories, the new doco series that takes us behind the walls of the most elaborate industrial spaces on earth, is a loving testament to human-made ingenuity. Each episode shows us what goes into making some of the world’s most renowned products, placing us at the intersection between human and machine.

From Lamborghini and BMW, to Boeing and Learjet, to IKEA and LEGO, the show will upend your preconceptions of commercial factories being sterile and mundane, and leave you awed in the process. 

One of the most distinct episodes from the upcoming first season explores the meticulous procedures required to create the legendary Aussie tipple, Bundaberg Rum.

 

Community spirits

To those who need to brush up on their geography, the word ‘Bundaberg’ may be solely synonymous with dark liquor. But Bundaberg is also a small city on the south-east coast of Queensland where that liquor was born. Over 130 years ago, a group of sugar millers were at a loss as to what to do with an overabundance of excess molasses. They decided to open a distillery and began making the stuff.  

Today, the town and the tipple are inseparable. Bundaberg Rum is a source of pride for local residents, not only due to its success as a bona fide domestic powerhouse (Down Under accounts for 95% of all Bundy sales), but also to the employment opportunities it has created and maintained. For the many Bundabergians that work to keep the product line alive, Bundy Rum runs in their blood.

 

The megafactory

The first thing that separates the Bundaberg Distillery from most of the world’s megafactories is its gorgeous, seemingly quaint exterior. An oversized cottage-like façade suggests that all you’d find inside is a handful of staff working a few barrels. The truth is you’d find one of the country’s most elaborate and unique factories. 

Each year, Aussie rum enthusiasts purchase over five million cases of Bundy. On average, the megafactory is home to $2 billion worth of the stuff, and churns out 50,000 bottles a day, or around 130 a minute. Their original blend is aged for two years in one of 283 American White Oak vats, each of which costs $100,000 to make and stores $7 million worth of rum.

The factory not only produces Bundy’s signature original rum, but also distills premium blends that are regularly nominated for international awards. Blends from their Master Distillers’ Collection have taken home gold at the World Drinks Awards, for best gold rum and best dark rum in 2016, and best dark rum again in 2017. The factory itself has also picked up multiple nods at the International Distillery Challenge Awards. For those in the rum world, this is a very big deal.

 

Anniversaries and natural disasters

During this episode of the Megafactories series, we watch on as the Bundy team are challenged to create their most unique blend of rum to date, to coincide with the drink’s 125-year anniversary. This blend wouldn’t merely be limited edition. It would become the most deluxe rum ever made in Australia, and the first in the country to be made by hand.

To achieve this, an entirely new wing of the megafactory was created – one that could work with new, sleek, square bottles and blend through thousands of small barrels as opposed to hundreds of massive vats.

Unfortunately, the creation of this landmark spirit was put on hold when the town of Bundaberg was crippled by floods. The distillery suffered a considerable amount of damage and was temporarily shut down. As a company, Bundaberg honoured the disrupted lives of the local community in the only way they knew how – by creating a product line of rums under the banner ‘Road to Recovery’ that paid respects to every street affected by floodwaters.

Each affected household was then given a free bottle bearing their street name...

The Bundy Rum episode of Megafactories hits SBS VICELAND on Monday, 11 March at 6:40pm. Previous episodes are streaming at SBS On Demand:

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