First posted February 27, 2010 on Liquorature.
Holy antipodean molasses, Batman: what the hell is this? Years from now, old farts will be discussing their first great love or hate of rum, and this one will surely make the short list. You either embrace this vile sipper or despise it for its difference, but you’ll never be indifferent, that’s for sure.
Full of hope and expectations, Keenan and I traded rums over the table yesterday – in his direction went the El Dorado 21 year old (I had really wanted him to sample it since his snoot is more highly attuned to quality than my more pedestrian schnoz), and in mine went the Bundie (plus a few others, in case you’re thinking that the exchange was not an equal one). Ever since we had had this at Bauer’s place some months ago when dodging his dog and scarfing pizza, I had wanted to write a review of this antipodal hooch, and to refresh my memory as to whether it was truly as bad a sipper as I recall. Or had I been too tipsy and despoiled by the whisky that night to have a clean palate?
The answer? Yes, no and no.
Bundaberg Rum is made in Bundaberg, Southern Queensland, Australia, and is something of a cult favourite down under – it’s said this is what coke and weekends were invented for. “Bundie’ as it’s called there, is practically a cultural institution and supposedly the most popular rum in Australia. I first heard of this 37% underproof when I read Wilbur Smith’s Hungry as the Sea (“Listen to me, you Bundaberg swilling galah” says the hero at one point to an Aussie engineer) and have kept it in the back of my mind ever since. It has been made since 1888 when local sugar plantations were trying to figure out what to do with their leftover molasses. With some interruptions, the rum has been in production ever since. In 1961 the polar bear was added to the labelling as a mascot to imply how well the rum could ward off the coldest chill. The Bundie that makes it over here is not the more expensive Reserve, Red or Overproof, but just the standard low-end stuff, coming off a wash and then a pot still. Even so, I think it costs in the $40-$50 range (which may be transport costs factored in).
One has to be clear that this is not meant to be a sipping rum. It’s absolutely meant to be mixed (preferably with ginger beer to create a highball known as the “Dark and Stormy”), and every review I’ve read says so, though one Aussie who commented here disputed the point and suggested it was more commonly mixed with coke. I agree. This is a cocktail base and not something to tempt the nose and the palate to indulgent, leisurely sips.
The problem was, I approached like I had all the others. Sniff, a sip neat and another one over ice. And I shuddered and just about knocked Keenan out of his chair in my haste to reach the coke. Keenan himself was blanching. “Turpentine,” he managed to squeak as he reached for the smelling salts.
Christ. This is not a rum. This is a tequila masquerading as a rum. It smells different from any rum I’ve ever tasted, harsher and cloyingly musky-salt-sweet (the very thing I hate about tequila) and the taste is sharp, violent on the tongue and is redolent of methylated spirits, match sulphur and new paint (I exaggerate for effect…but not by much). There’s no oak, no caramel sweetness, just hurt. As a sipper this may be the single vilest drink I’ve had since I made the mistake of trying my Uncle Ronald’s DDL five year old neat and lost my voice and sight for a fortnight (admittedly, some suggested it was an improvement and rushed to buy a few extra bottles). It certainly will warm the cockles of your tum, but my advice is to use it for what it was meant for: comforting exiled Aussies, mixing it with coke at least 3:1 in favour of the coke and appreciating that here is something that really is different. Keenan’s attitude was distinctly unflattering: “I’d rather eat a curried dingo sh*t than try that straight again.”
It may appeal to some who like drinking a rum that is off the reservation (and is as distant from the Caribbean caramel and fruit taste as it’s possible to get), and maybe with ginger beer (or coke) it really does lift your socks off. All I can say is that it doesn’t work for me, and after I helped The Bear back to his feet, we “ketch sum sense” and moved back to the safer ground of the West Indian nectars, rather than indulging further armchair sojourns to the south.
Mate, I had to laugh at your review of Bundaberg Rum because a) it was very funny and b) I think you missed the point entirely. Absolutely no one sips Bundy here in Oz and I doubt many people drink it with ginger beer. Everyone drinks it with coke, a match, in my humble opinion, made in heaven. Possibly it’s not warm enough where you live to really appreciate it ? Anyway, each to their own. Give the Quiet Cannon rum from the Lark Distillery in Tasmania a go if you want to try a sipper from Oz. http://www.larkdistillery.com.au/
I’ve made some amendments in the review based on your comments, including the location correction. Always glad to hear from a real Aussie.
Your review cracked me up, it is Bundy that put me of drinking rum for so many years, it’s simply, short of cheap ouzo, the foulest concoction ever created by man. Just the smell of it transports me back to my youth when this stuff was barely more expensive that a a litre of engine degreaser and slightly less offensive to drink. So after 20 years of thinking this was rum and avoiding like a hot poker in the eye, I ventured some real stuff and the rest is expensive history. This is a real rough as guts Bogan drink, I would agree on the above post re ginger beer, that would be way too effeminate:) Bundy and Coke mate!
Thanks for the laugh!
This review has no credibility with Aussies, and should not be used as a guide for anyone wanting to try Bundy Rum. No one in Australia sips it, or has it neat. Bundy is mixed with coke and/or ginger ale (dry). Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat, like a Whisky or a Scotch. The review is humorous but falls well short of the truth or what the Rum is intended for.
Maybe not, but in order to maintain a consistent reviewing methodology over many rums over many years, I have never taken into account how it works in a mix. The fact that it may traditionally be served that way does not come into it. All rums are tried neat and reviewed that way. On that level, the Bundie fails.
I’ve tried to make it clear that Bundie is indeed better (and traditionally drunk) with some other additive, like coke or ginger beer, as you yourself have pointed out. And for what it’s worth, I actually appreciated the Bundaberg Reserve quite a bit, even if I didn’t like this one.
I utterly disagree with your remark that “Rum in general is not meant to be sipped neat.” Sorry mate, but on this one you’re out to lunch. Perhaps you’d be more correct to say “Cheap, low-end, mass-produced rums in general are not meant to be sipped neat.” I’d agree with that. But I’ve had enough superb, aged, sipping quality rums to know that in general, the trend is towards greater quality. To mix any of those would be as sacrilegious as tipping coke into a Black Bowmore. And they are not exceptions.
Just want to say as an Australian and a huge rum drinker, 100% agree with your consideration of this. Only recently bought a bottle to try, and can safely say it will be the last, not sure this should even be called rum it’s that distinct from everything else and just not pleasant at all.
I was raised on Bundy & Coke and that foul molasses smell haunts me in my dreams.
So many great rums out there which are delightful neat or on ice and I would drink water in preference to Bundy.
Funnily enough it wasn’t until I had a good rum that I found out that diluting with Coke wasn’t even necessary. Who’da thunk it?
I loved this review. I’m from Brisbane Australia and…mate you crack me up. You’re spot on and yes I Iove my bundy. In saying this, when I’ve had a few and have a swig straight I almost choke. Glad to hear you found it better with the dry cos I (like most aussie bundy drinkers) always loved the bundy and coke but now I like it much more with the dry. No where near as sweet and I think that’s why I like it over the coke. Great fun review. Cheers Chris Brissy Aust.
P.S, Try the Beenliegh rum, now that’s a kicker and only in it’s finest form is it a sipper.
On behalf of myself and all my fellow-countrymen, I humbly apologize to the world for this vile concoction that dares to call itself rum.
Be assured, the only people who drink this in Australia are
a) Under-age drinkers who scratch together enough money to buy a bottle and can convince someone of legal age to procure it for them
b) Those on a budget so tight it is literally all they can afford
c) Those who have simply never tried anything else at all and think it’s what rum should taste like
d) Those with no taste.
The shame is that it presents entirely the wrong image of Aussie rum – we do have some great distilleries, and more and more craft distillers are cropping up all the time – all of whom produce a spirit that is light years ahead of this swill.
I feel your pain 🙂
If I can work out the shipping, I’m going to see what I can do to get my grubby paws on more rums from Australia to write about, since I feel there is stuff going on there not widely known at this point. Any suggestions would be welcome.
Here you go:
I haven’t tried all of these and some are better than others. In my humble opinion the Ord River rum from the Hoochery is the best rum I’ve ever had from anywhere. If you don’t like that one you don’t like rum. The first single barrel rum released by Husk Distillers two years ago was also sublime.
It might also be worth your while getting hold of a book that came out earlier this year called “The Australian Spirits Guide” by Luke McCarthy.
http://www.vok.com.au also do Inner Circle rum
That’s an amazing set of resources to check out, Simon, many thanks. You’ve certainly rekindled my interest and determination to stop gabbing about, expend some coin and just get them.
Couple more for you.
1. Bundy with a y.
2. Best seller in Oz for a reason.
3. Not like any other rum, absolutely. Very distinctive taste.
4. Love it or loathe it, there’s no in between.