Thursday, September 8, 2011

Bundaberg-Sweet As!

First I should probably explain the "sweet as!"  It's an Aussie expression of something good, short for sweet as sugar, but they usually just say the sweet as, and all run together so it sounds like one word.  North of Hervey Bay about an hour is the "big city" of Bundaberg.  It is still considerably smaller than Durham (about 70,000) and, of course, is shortened to "Bundy."  The Aussies certainly like their long "e" sound.  Most of the surrounding area is sugar cane fields.  I took a picture while we were driving of the fields and a truck hauling the harvested stalks.  Sorry for the blurry nature, but it was the best I could in the car.  As a former farm girl, agricultural workings still fascinate me and I had never seen sugar cane before.

Sugar is Australian's second largest agricultural export, although really it's sort of a four way tie for first with cotton, sugar, wool, and wheat.  Beef and Lamb are lower down only because they consume a lot of it in country before exporting.  All but 6% of the sugar is grown in Queensland.  Not surprisingly, Bundaberg is the home of Bundaberg Sugar, a factory that was releasing large amounts of steam:

We were already well acquainted with the Bundaberg Sugar product line as it is all over the grocery stores in Australia and is known for it's bright yellow packaging:  

We didn't tour the mill, but we did get plenty of touring of the other businesses that make use of all of Bundy's nearby sugar.  First stop was Bundaberg Rum, THE rum of Oz.  Every home I've been in so far has a bottle hanging around.  At the front of the distillery is the legendary giant rum bottle:

We were hoping to tour the distillery, as I had found the Jack Daniel's tour in Tennessee fascinating even if I don't like the product.  Most distilleries, wineries, and breweries I have been to have free tours because they want you to buy the product.  I can occasionally be snookered into buying a bottle of wine, but usually I don't like the product and it's fun cheap entertainment to tour the places.  It's a combination of both food and agriculture, which clearly both are interesting to me.  Well, the Bundy Rum tour was $25 a pop.  I was not that interested.  I did buy a piece of rum fudge, though, which was quite tasty and somewhat similar to Kentucky Bourbon Balls I have tried in Lexington.  We decided if we were going to pay for a brewing tour, we would instead spring for the Bundaberg Barrel, home of home brewed sodas, most famously their Ginger Beer.  Thirteen flavors of soda made with real sugar instead of corn syrup we could get behind.  Besides, the building was just fun:


Inside they had a very kid friendly and slightly corny exhibit on how they make ginger beer in particular.  I had discovered from Trigger actually right before we left that you can brew ginger beer at home pretty easily as it is just water, ginger, sugar, lemon juice, and yeast left to ferment for while.  The fermentation gives it the carbonation, and as long as you don't let it sit too long, the alcohol it produces is fairly minimal.  Again, this makes Bundaberg a great spot for a ginger beer maker.   In addition to sugar cane, they grow a lot of citrus in the area, and actually ginger, too.  It also has the Bundaberg River, a good source of fresh water in what is the world's driest inhabited country.  For those who would like to learn a little less, and just like to see some fun pictures, I included a picture of me making bubbles in an exhibit about how the yeast works in ginger beer:

At the end of all the educational stuff, you got to try every flavor they make which included everything from Peachee (there's that "e" again) to Gauva flavored soda.  Our favorites were the Sarsaparilla (root beer), Burgandee Creaming Soda (a red cream soda), and the Lemon Lime and Bitters (Lemon juice, lime juice, bitters--from bark, and clove).  I was really surprised that I liked the last one.  They came in fun bottles:   

Lest you think that the sugar only goes in beverages around there, on the way home, we stopped at Mammino Gourmet Ice Cream in Childers on the way home.  They combine the sugar with the plentiful dairy from all those cows and macadamia nuts, which are also grown in Queensland.  They make a very creamy dense ice cream that showcases the macadamias.  Daniel got the vanilla macadamia and I got the chocolate macadamia.  They were very yummy.  As you can see, it was consumed with enthusiasm.

Afterwards we went home and lapsed into a sugar coma.   Yeah, Bundaberg!  We intend to return sometime in November as the beach there is also home to sea turtles and they give night tours on the beach during hatching season.  

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