Quaffable rum: Creating artisanal Queensland spirits

5 Apr 2024
A glass of rum with a slice of lime
Image: Adobe

Floral, fruity, and herbaceous artisanal rums could soon be on the menu at your local bar thanks to a collaboration between The University of Queensland and Canefields Distillery.

The project is one of several announced through UQ’s Agri-Food Innovation Alliance (AFIA) Industry Kickstarter Grant program, which aims to catalyse commercial impact and help solve specific challenges faced by local food producers.

UQ’s Dr Marlize Bekker said that she’s excited to be using her wine-centric research skills to help create superior and unique rum varieties.

“For over a decade, my research has focussed on understanding the flavour and aroma compounds in wine,” Dr Bekker said.

“This includes compounds that contribute to premium sensory characters, as well as those that contribute to unwanted taints and fault – it’s no secret that wine’s sensory properties have been studied in exceptional detail.

“We’re thrilled to be able to apply this flavour and aroma chemistry knowledge to develop high-quality rums with distinct aromatic and flavour profiles.”

Dr Bekker in the lab
UQ's Dr Marlize Bekker. Image: Supplied 

Researchers are looking at ways to utilise ‘heirloom’ varieties of sugarcane – those not typically used in rum distilling – to produce a rum with a unique flavour profile to rums distilled with commercial selected sugarcane varieties.

“We’ll be identifying heirloom varieties that produce the most sugar while also providing a unique, delicious flavour that best represents Queensland regions,” Dr Bekker said.

“Unlike commercially selected varieties, these heirlooms offer the potential for superior sugar content and unique flavour profiles perfectly suited for premium rum production.

“The ultimate aim is to produce unique artisan rum with flavour profiles ranging from light sweetness to warm spices, to bright and herbaceous floral notes.”

Luke in the field chopping sugar cane
Luke Farrelly in the field hand cutting sugar cane. Image: Supplied

Co-owner and Distiller at Canefields Distillery, Luke Farrelly, said the cane farm distillery hopes to produce a rum with a unique flavour reflective of the region it’s produced in.

“Sugarcane farming has occurred in the Sunshine Coast region for over 100 years, and Canefields will capitalise on this history and knowledge, as well as the expertise from UQ, to create new, high-end products,” Mr Farrelly said.

“Just as wine is complementary to the regions it’s grown in, rums are just the same.

“There’s clear demand for beverages that capture the region’s distinct character, provenance, and ‘terroir’ – the environment the product’s produced in.

“This will be new for Queensland’s rapidly growing spirit industry and it’s wonderful that UQ researchers are helping us innovate and expand this market – cheers to that.”

The full list of Industry Kickstarter Grant recipients:

UQ Researcher

Industry Partner

Project Name

Dr Marlize Bekker

Canefields Distillery

Identifying heirloom sugarcane varieties with high sugar and unique flavour profiles

Dr Deirdre Mikkelsen

Bugs Alive

Microbial Safety and Nutritional Quality of Crickets (Achaeta domestica)

Dr Hima Haridevan

Australian Wood Fibre (AWF)

GelShroom Circularity: Tissue Paper Offcuts-based Gels as Alternative to Peat Casing Soils for Mushroom Cultivation

Dr Clement Chan

Queensland Trust for Nature (QTFN)

Development of bio-derived and biodegradable tree guard prototypes for a sustainable plastics future


Dr Peter Dart

SeaO2 Algae

Utilising commercial microalgae production current byproducts

The University of Queensland acknowledges the $2.5 million contribution made by the Australian Government Department of Education, Skills and Employment under the Strategic University Reform Fund (SURF) to support the activities conducted by the UQ Agri-Food Innovation Alliance.

Media: Dr Marlize Bekker, m.bekker@uq.edu.au, +61 458 985 127; Luke Farrelly, canefieldsdistillery@gmail.com, +61 409 642 838; Faculty of Science Media, science.media@uq.edu.au, +61 438 162 687.