Bundaberg, Tuesday 21 to Wednesday 22 May 2019

We decided on having a day in Bundaberg based out of Woodgate Beach because we had some difficulty finding dog-friendly accommodation. On the drive to Bundaberg on Tuesday we encountered our first rail crossing where we were stopped to wait for a train.

Stopped at a rail crossing

Everyone has had, or at least heard of, Bundaberg Ginger Beer. Well, it is actually made in Bundaberg, along with 16 other varieties of soft drinks. The company has a visitor centre called The Barrel. For $12, a person gets a self-guided tour of a museum showing how the ginger beer is made and packed, a taste of all 17 flavours, and a six-pack of 375 ml bottles of one’s choosing. This has to be awesome value! Katie and I were some of the first customers of the day.

I was surprised to learn that all the soft drinks made here are brewed, that is fermented, from one to four days. This creates alcohol, of course, but most of the alcohol is driven off when the wort is heated and the yeast is killed to stop the fermentation. I know that some alcoholic ginger beers are made by adding alcohol to a soft drink. However, I am now intrigued to see if anyone brews alcoholic ginger beer like a conventional beer and leaves the generated alcohol in.

It is not surprising that the soft drink factory is very highly automated. The museum uses cameras that are set up in the factory. We only saw one human being from all the cameras that we must have watched for about 20 minutes.

Katie and I came away with a carton of 24 diet ginger beer stubbies, a half carton of 12 pink grapefuit stubbies, a 6-pack of pineapple and coconut stubbies, and two mixed six-packs from the cost of the tour. I bought diet ginger beer because it has more ginger in it relevant to the traditional ginger beer, and it does contain less added sugar. I thought that the ginger beer would be useful to make Dark and Stormy with rum. The pineapple and coconut drink would go well with a white rum.

The Barrel at Bundaberg
Tasting 17 soft drinks with Kevin

We were advised by staff at the Woodgate Beach Caravan Park to try Grunske’s by the River for a fresh seafood lunch in Bundaberg. Sounded good, but it was not dog friendly. We found a parking spot next to both Grunske’s and the Burnett River. All the seafood at Grunske’s, except the Tasmanian salmon, is locally caught. We bought some seafood for lunch—crumbed mackerel, some calamari, and a seafood basket, washed down with a Bundaberg guava drink. We also bought some cooked prawns and some smoked mackerel for our fridge. The place is licensed, but very casual. It would be nice to have a sit down meal there, but we enjoyed our lunch in Matilda overlooking the river. Dexter scored more than one chip.

Nice parking spot to eat our seafood lunch by the Burnett River

In the afternoon, Ian booked a tour of the Bundaberg Rum Distillery. The museum in the distillery is amazing. On the tour we were taken through the rum making process, which Ian was quite ignorant about. The electric fences around the distillery were daunting—apparently they are essential to keep out people who have more than a healthy liking for the rum. We learned the story of the polar bear mascot, Bundy R Bear, and the distinctive square Bundy rum bottle, which were devised by Sam McMahon, brother of past Australian prime minister Billy McMahon. McMahon actually means “son of bear” in Irish, and that is why an Australian rum has a polar bear mascot rather than an Australian animal.

The Bundaberg Rum Distillery
Amazed to find a huge range of rums
Bundy R Bear in person

The tour included two full drinks—one of any rum, and one of a rum liqueur. One of the rums was recommended for those who don’t drink rum but who like Scotch whisky, so I went for this. It was perfect, but at $179 a bottle, I would have expected it to be. I had the liqueur neat and with some soda water, but was not impressed. I ended up buying a Reserve rum that was recommended for mixing with ginger beer to make a Dark and Stormy. I also bought a Bundy Rum glass.

While we were at Bundaberg Brewed Drinks we found a brochure on a relatively new distillery in town called Kalki Moon. We decided to visit on the way through Bundaberg to Agnes Water on the Wednesday. Rick, the owner, was very welcoming. He used to work at the Bundaberg Rum Distillery, but left to start his own distilling business with his wife. He makes rum, gin and liqueurs, but the rum is still ageing—it has to be aged for at least two years before it can be released as rum. Rick explained the gin making process to Ian and Katie. The gin starts life as a raw alcohol, which is purchased. It is mixed with juniper and other aromatic plants and then redistilled to make gin. Gin must involve juniper—if not, it is vodka. He makes three varieties of gin—a standard gin with 37% alcohol and a small range of aromatics, a middle of the road gin with a wider range of aromatics, and a top of the range Navy gin with the most alcohol and the widest range of aromatics. We each tasted some gin as mixed drinks. The standard gin was said to be good with muddled lime and ginger beer to make a Gin Gin Mule. Gin Gin is a nearby town. The standard gin was also good with Bundaberg grapefruit drink. The pink gin liqueur is infused with elderflower and rose, and is good with soda water. We bought a bottle of the standard gin and a bottle of the pink gin liqueur. Rick was interested in our travels, so we showed him through Matilda.

Kalki Moon Distillery
Ian at the tasting bar with owner Rick
Kalki Moon’s small barrel reserve rums ageing gracefully

So, Bundaberg provided us with insights into three drink making businesses, and a local seafood purveyor. Good memories, which will be stirred up whenever we have a Bundaberg soft drink, a Bundy rum, or a gin mixer. We also stopped at a shopping mall for lunch on the Wednesday and to stock up on provisions before heading off to Agnes Water.

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