If you were to learn that every day, day in, day out, one million—that’s 1,000,000—examples of one type of drink were consumed in Australia, well, wouldn’t you be keen to leverage that drink’s power to help your bar sales? If you also discovered that this particular drink dominates 85 per cent of all Australian sales in its category, wouldn’t you be even more desirous to add it to you inventory?
Surely. But then again, maybe not: it’s Bundaberg Rum.
Let me qualify that “maybe not” comment. The other day I was observing a strictly professional beer with a semi-retired Melbourne bar operator. She was reflecting on what had made her first bar stand out and attract the cashed-up, style-savvy, trend-setting drinkers du jour: “We never served Bundy…”
Her point was that Bundaberg Rum represented a certain drinking demographic and with it came a certain joie de vivre, or ‘behaviour’, as Behaviour Scientists call the carefree enjoyment of life. This bar operator didn’t care much for Bundy drinkers and their exultation of spirit in her bar because, well, “they’re bogans and bush pigs”. (Yes, she’s fairly frank after a half a beer.) Her bars were and are successful because she endeavours to stay ahead of the trend curve of drinks, thereby helping to also set what will be the next thing to be seen drinking. And that ain’t Bundy.
Bundy is iconized as a remote, rural and regional Australian front bar staple, and a drink to be purchased off-premise and consumed off-piste. The sales volumes and consumption figures do not lie. As a liquor brand it is incredibly successful. But what can a liquor licence holder do to find profit and turnover in the rum category, outside and apart from the powerful Bundaberg Rum vortex?
There are two options.
Bundaberg rivals and competitors.
Beenleigh, Inner Circle, Holey Dollar—these are all Australian rums that claim—at the very least—some sort of similarity to Bundaberg’s pedigree.
Beenleigh, for example, is Australia’s oldest registered distillery. It’s also a Queenslander and was, earlier in the last century, more prominent than Bundaberg. VOK Beverages nowadays own and run the brand, after some recent musical chairs with ownership. There’s a 5 Year Old Dark Rum, Honey Rum, and a good White Rum. Beenleigh is pot-stilled, which is the production method preferred by smaller volume producers. Pot-stilling is considered to produce higher-quality rum, but in truth this factor comes down to the skill of the distiller.
Beenleigh is also responsible for the manufacture of Inner Circle Rum, which is the Australian brand with perhaps the most cachet. This was the secret-squirrel ultra-reserve rum made exclusively for the board and directors of CSR, or the Australian Colonial Sugar Refining Company, as it was once known. Considered to be the best Australian example, Inner Circle was revived and democratized in 2000, albeit it was being made in Fiji… Now it is back to full Australian production, and it has an unquestionably clean profile, with the sort of partially hidden fruit complexities you want in top class rum. It’s also distributed by VOK.
Holey Dollar is a newer brand that draws on early NSW fiscal service practises for it’s name and imported heritage kudos. Spanish dollar coins were punched out in 1813 to create local currency, and were in use in the colony for more than a decade. Holey Dollar is made in Fiji and comes in three dark styles: Silver, Gold (or overproof at 57º), and Platinum (or cask strength, at about 75º). It is expensive rum, and has won awards, and may well appeal to drinkers who like the top shelf Bundaberg variants.
Indeed, you could use any one of these rums as an alternative to Bunbaberg, and by doing so you can intimate that your rum list features proud Australian rums with their own unique story and style, but without the cultural cringe quality of the ubiquitous Bundy.
These are the Rolls Royce rums, particularly the rhum agricoles from Martinique, which come with their own appellation system, similar to French wine. Agricole rhums are also built from different base material. Standard, or industrial rum, is made from a sugar by-product: molasses; but argicoles are made from sugar cane juice. This is not to suggest that industrial rums cannot be any good, but it is important to realise that there’s a difference. Rums are more fruity and sweet; Agricole Rhums are more herbal and leafy, probably because they are made from a real plant, not an extract. Indeed, Agricole rhums have been compared to high-quality tequila when properly made from Blue Agave plant hearts. Look for the words “Agricole Rhum” or “Appellation Controlee” on the label, or use the expertise and superb service of Melbourne liquor distributors Cerbaco, at www.cerbaco.com.au.
I hasten to add that the semi-retired bar operator I was drinking beer… I mean conferencing with… did serve rum in many of her bars: Mt Gay. But she only ever listed it from Cup Day to Easter, and only ever offered it over ice with wedges of orange or lime, and topped up with a soft mixer if requested. Yet with more interest and activity in the small bar and cocktail scene, rum as a base for an exotically garnished mixed drink may help expand the category and its appreciation. The fact that Bundaberg are now actively pursuing and promoting the use of small oak barrel and cask maturation in their specialty rums suggest that they do not want to be left on the mixologist’s shelf.