142 Distillery Rd, Eagleby Open: Wed – Sun 10am – 5pm Ph: 07 3807 3737
There are some tours in our own backyard which we shouldn’t leave to the tourists, and Beenleigh Rum sure is one of those. We’re a nation built using rum as the currency. In some ways it still is. There’s no need to go further afield to find it; we’ve got liquid gold right here on our doorstep!
Opened in 1884, Beenleigh Rum Distillery is Australia’s original rum, and the Gold Coast’s longest running hospitality establishment. Thanks to new owners, the distillery is enjoying a rebirth with a new Visitors’ Centre, which opened to the public late in 2015.
For over 130 years, Beenleigh Rum has been handcrafting rum the traditional way in a stone convict-built building on the banks of the Albert River in Eagleby. The company is said to be the legal successor of ‘The Bosun’ James Stewart’s S.S. Walrus which ran aground on the river’s edge adjacent to John Davy and Frank Gooding’s cane farm. Salvaging the still and not finding the owner, the farmers decided to diversify their business, gaining a rum licence and siting the still beside the sugar mill on their plantation, named Beenleigh in memory of their family estate in Devonshire, England.
The distillery has faced many challenges during its history, including being swept away in the floods of 1887, as well as many changes of ownership which brought changes in direction. There were times when its very existence seemed unlikely, with the company lapsing into receivership for several years.
Its purchase by Vok (a subsidiary of Bickford’s) in 2012 has once again put the distillery on the map. Renamed Beenleigh Artisan Distillery, it has been relaunched as an international tourist attraction. Focus has been placed on the artisan nature of the distillery’s small batch copper pot distillation (using the original copper pots), ageing of rum in handmade oak barrels, and its use of quality local ingredients, such as molasses from the Rocky Point Sugar Mill, (Australia’s only family-owned mill), a few kilometres down the road.
Master Distiller Wayne Stewart has been working at the distillery for 36 years and has seen many changes over that time. While he says he ‘fell into the job by accident’, he’s passionate about a good drop or two, and is pleased to see it evolve over time. His favourite tipple, he tells us, is the limited release Port Barrel-infused rum, a delicious smooth drop to sip either straight or on ice.
The tour begins in the Visitors’ Centre, which also acts as a museum for the distillery, before we look around the distillery itself. Visits are led by venue manager and mixologist Gavin Butler, whose colourful commentary laden with anecdotes and snapshots of history makes our tour a spellbinding pleasure. There’s a feeling of those who’ve gone before as we visit the iconic red building built in the 1890s, its walls clad with convict-marked blocks. The copper still is used even today to impart flavour after fermentation, before the rum is poured into either oak kegs, vats or barrels to age and gain more complexity.
Beenleigh’s rums have received many accolades including ‘World’s Best Rum’ at the 1995 London International Wine & Spirit Show and silver and bronze medals at the San Francisco world spirit competition 2016.
Of course no distillery tour would be complete without a tasting, so three nips are included in the tour to help you decide on your favourite. We bring home a bottle of Beenleigh Rum Liqueur, luscious in flavour and velvety smooth, a perfect drop to accompany after-dinner conversation.
Beenleigh Artisan Distillery is a tour that locals shouldn’t leave for the tourists. Rock on down to the distillery for ‘Trucks ‘n’ Tunes’: live music, rum tours and tastings, with a food truck meet to fuel the journey. Check out the distillery’s social media pages for more details and dates.
Why not get out and discover the fascinating history of our own backyard!
Read more of Marj’s reviews on Good Food Gold Coast http://www.foodgoldcoast.com.au