How this distillery is turning cane trash into treasure
IF YOU could sum up Bundaberg in a drink, it would be hard to go past a rum, aged in a barrel scorched by a cane fire.
A new release by Waterview Distillery will allow buyers to sip just that, using cane juice to create a rum as well as a white spirit often known in South America as cachaca.
And the rum's unique production process could soon become a tourist attraction, its creator says.
"It's the first time, commercially, that cane juice has been turned into a rum in Bundaberg," Waterview founder Matthew Drane said.
The cane juice will be supplied by Bundaberg Sugar in an agreement that sees the two companies working closely together.
Dr Lou Muller, who was the brains behind Bundaberg Rum for several decades and is now based in Brisbane, dropped into Bundaberg to taste the new creations and give his seal of approval.
Last August during the cane crush, the Bundaberg Sugar team modified the first press juice receival tank to allow Waterview to collect the juice.
Waterview distilled it, kept some aside for the white spirit, and prepared to place the rest into vats hand-coopered by Dave Schmeider.
But before that could happen, "with the assistance of Bundaberg Sugar farm staff, (we) took the barrels to a farm at Fairymead Plantation and walked them into the middle of a block that was to be lit for burning," Mr Drane said.
The process charred the inside as well as the outside of the vat, acting as a filter, Dr Muller explained.
To be legally classified as rum, the spirit in those vats must be aged for two years - but at the halfway mark this month Dr Muller said, "You can taste the result of (the cane fire).
"The charring process means there is carbon on the surface of the timber, and that absorbs and redistributes materials.
"It won't put flavour in, but it will take unpleasant flavours out."
The use of cane juice instead of molasses is a big factor in flavour too, he said.
"The more concentrated the raw material like molasses, the stronger the flavour - so you get a lighter bodied product from juice compared with molasses."
The first run of the white cane juice spirit, known as Pure, will be bottled and ready for sale in the coming weeks.
The cane-charred barrel rum will be branded Black Snow after the cane trash that Bundaberg knows well.
The two are part of a package with buyers receiving the rum a year down the track.
Bundaberg Sugar general manager operations David Pickering said the company was happy to be involved.
"They wanted to do something a little bit different, and it was easy for us to provide them with the juice," Mr Pickering said.
"It's a very small quantity compared to the cane we process," he said.
"Matthew has definitely gone to the trouble of trying to make it an authentic experience.
"We're happy to see something developing in the community - if it helps another business and tourism in the town ... and we've got a good reputation for rum in the town, so why not?"
Meanwhile, Mr Drane said preparations were in full swing to make Waterview Distillery open to the public.
"We plan to advise the location and date of the 'Barrel Burn' as a tourist or enthusiast event each year."