The Bundaberg Distilling Company was formed in 1888 to supplement returns from the local sugar industry and to make use of molasses, a waste product from sugar refining. The first Bundaberg Rum was distilled in 1889 and the following year it was being sold interstate. In its early years, the company struggled financially, first returning a profit in 1898.
However, in 1888 Buss was successful in forming a company with a number of local investors. It was officially incorporated on 22nd November. One of the shareholders, Mr S.H. Bravo, was appointed as manager as he had distilling experience gained in the home of rum – the West Indies. In its early days, the company was troubled by intense competition, floods and a depressed economy. The company was liquidated and re-formed with a new shareholding, eventually proving profitable in 1898.
The Bundaberg Rum distillery burnt down twice, interrupting production from 1907 to 1914 and from 1936 to 1939. After the second fire, burning molasses spilled into the Burnett River, setting it on fire. Initially, Bundaberg Rum was sold in barrels and bottled by agents and it wasn’t until the 1970s that all bottling operations were brought in-house.
The Bundaberg polar bear mascot was introduced in 1961. Developed by advertising agency Leo Burnett, the bear was intended to convey a sense of mateship and to broaden the rum’s appeal beyond the older male drinker. The inference was that rum kept you warm, even in cold weather.
It’s a two-way street. The company supports its loyal customers. After the devastating 2013 floods in Brisbane, Bundaberg Rum released the special limited edition Road To Recovery bottle. Each bottle bore the name of a flood-affected street, and sales raised over $250,000 for flood relief.
The Bundaberg Rum business was sold to the British Diageo in 2000 and in 2014 the bottling operation was moved to Sydney.