In 2007, John McLean took over as CEO of Bundaberg Brewed Drinks (BBD).

His mission at BBD is to maintain strong family values while growing the business internationally. Here, John flips, rips, and sips with Chilled on Bundaberg Brewed Drinks.

John McLean, office shot

John McLean

Bundaberg is an Australian, family-owned company with a long history. Tell us about the brand.

Bundaberg Brewed Drinks is based in the Queensland town that shares its name, Bundaberg. For three generations, we’ve kept tradition at heart, craft-brewing premium adult non-alcoholic beverages using time-honored brewing methods and the best-quality ingredients. For as long as we’ve been in business, we’ve lived by one simple rule: if it’s worth brewing, it’s worth brewing well.

Bundaberg Brewed Drinks started out as Electra Breweries in the 1960s by Cliff and Lee Fleming, and Cliff’s parents, Neville and Gladys. Times were extremely tough at the beginning, but the distribution of our Ginger Beer started to expand in the 1980s when we secured distribution in both major Australian supermarkets and New Zealand.

In 1995, I joined the business, the same year Electra Breweries changed its name to Bundaberg Brewed Drinks. It was an exciting time for the business, as the once-small regional distributor began to transform itself into an iconic brand, brewing premium non-alcoholic carbonated beverages.

In 2007, I took over as CEO of BBD with a mission to grow the business internationally while maintaining the strongly entrenched family values. I still get excited when I’m overseas at a restaurant and see Bundaberg Ginger Beer on the menu. It is a surreal feeling knowing the background and the effort it has taken to get it there. Now, Bundaberg Brewed Drinks sells internationally to over 44 countries around the world.

John McLean, blue shirt portrait

John McLean

Bundaberg uses real ingredients and a unique brewing process. Talk to us about the brewing process.

We start with real ingredients. In the case of our Ginger Beer, we use fresh, locally grown ginger from Queensland, Australia, which we slice and dry, and then just before we brew, we grind the ginger to maximize the aromatics that define our unique flavor, and this is part of the reason why our beverages are so tasty.

We then infuse the mix with locally grown cane sugar mixed with water, and heat it to release even more ginger notes for the perfect balance of flavor. The technical term for this process is making the “wort” (pronounced “wert”), and it’s part of what makes this beverage so very different—and tastier—than a regular soft drink.

Now for the best part: we brew. We add a special yeast and begin the fermentation process, achieving a depth of flavor you can only get through brewing. And then … we wait. It takes time to let the flavors develop—over three days, in fact, for our Ginger Beer, and up to seven for our Lemon, Lime & Bitters! The brew is then carefully filtered to leave behind just the right amount of tiny ginger pieces leaving you with flavor that you can see.

The final step for our brew is to add some bubbles before filling into our unique glass stubby bottle with its rip-cap. You can genuinely taste the difference.

Ginger Field with John McLean

Ginger Field with John McLean

What sets Bundaberg Brewed Drinks apart in the industry?

The unique thing about Bundaberg Brewed Drinks is actually in our name. We brew our beverages, which achieves a depth of flavor you can only get through this method, and the result is a taste you just can’t replicate any other way.

While traditional carbonated soft drinks are on the decline, subcategories such as craft soft drinks are showing a marked increase. A key trend that we have noticed in the carbonated soft drink market globally over the past 12 months, especially with millennial consumers, is that consumers are developing a more discerning taste for premium beverages rather than traditional soft drinks. They’re seeking out new beverage experiences, and our unique range of brewed flavors is in the perfect position to meet the needs of these discerning consumers.

Millennials, as a generation, are turning away from mainstream brands in preference for smaller brands that cater more to their needs. They’re seeking out products that provide them with a unique experience, a brand that aligns more with their beliefs, opinions, and values, and a desire to “maximize special moments.”

According to Euromonitor research, millennials are the largest and most influential generation of consumers. For this reason, it’s important for brands and bar owners to be both proactive and reactive to the millennials’ demand for “more.” As millennials move away from mainstream CSD products, they’re seeking out new beverage (and cocktail) experiences and looking for brands that have an authentic backstory and distinct product attributes, such as craft products that use real ingredients, to create unique flavors. They’re also looking for products that have unique packaging and quirky product rituals, such as Bundaberg’s “Flip, Rip & Sip” opening ritual. Bundaberg Brewed Drinks tick all the boxes and are right at the center of all these lifestyle trends. Our recent qualitative research found that consumers are looking for a product fit for the occasion, a more premium product that can enhance their experience and is a “bit of a treat and special.”

Premiumization is a concept that we have seen change consumer perceptions in other categories including spirits, beer, and fast food. Similar changes are now occurring in sodas, with adult consumers seeking more premium products—ones that are a bit more special than an everyday soft drink, a drink to be savored. Because of this, consumers are looking for brands that are authentic, real, and genuine.

Authenticity is an important dimension of brand quality. Consumers today are more informed and educated about the products available to them, and are therefore in a stronger position to scrutinize what is real and genuine to them.

As a result, Bundaberg is the best-selling Ginger Beer in California and one of the fastest-growing craft soda brands in the United States.

Bundaberg Mule Cocktails

Bundaberg Mule Cocktails

Tell us about the packaging—the iconic glass stubby bottle with the rip-cap.

What people love about our brews is the whole experience of enjoying our product – from the opening ritual through to the great flavor on their taste buds. And it starts with our classic stubby bottle with its unique rip-cap top.

Part of the experience of enjoying a Bundaberg Brew is the ritual of inverting before you open the bottle, or what we call “Flip, Rip and Sip.” It’s not a gimmick—it’s designed to help release the real ingredients throughout the brew to unlock the full flavor.

What our customers love about our products is they know we use real ingredients (for example the ginger and real sugar cane in our Ginger Beer), to make our beverages and frankly, that’s what it’s all about: great produce, great taste, and a great experience.

Talk to us about using Bundaberg products in craft cocktails.

While we’re best known for our Ginger Beer, we’ve actually got seven flavors in the U.S. market (Ginger Beer, Root Beer, Lemon Lime & Bitters, Blood Orange, Peach, Pink Grapefruit, and Guava).

While they’re great on their own, they also make a fantastic mixer—people love that we bring something different to their table and their venue.

Bundaberg brews make the perfect mixer, with variants that can be mixed with a wide array of spirits; however, they’re also the perfect alternative to alcohol for consumers. Recent qualitative research findings found that when they consume our premium brews in social situations, they don’t feel like they are depriving themselves, but rather enhancing these special entertaining occasions.

Millennials have driven the growth of craft cocktails with their desire for authentic experiences and high-quality ingredients—from spirit to mixer to garnish. One drink in particular has exploded because of this generation: the Moscow Mule. Their Instagram feeds are filled with photos of the cocktail’s copper mug, and they appreciate the deep, authentic flavor of this drink. Bundaberg is the perfect mixer for the Moscow Mule, and bartenders and mixologists appreciate that the heritage of using premium ingredients like Bundaberg Ginger Beer allows them to sell higher-priced, better-quality, and better-tasting cocktails.

Additionally, Moscow Mules have now moved beyond the classic to use other liquors, but Ginger Beer remains the key ingredient, and a craft-brewed, premium Ginger Beer like Bundaberg quenches millennials’ thirst for authentic and sophisticated flavors.

Bundaberg Moscow Mule

Bundaberg Moscow Mule

What would you like bartenders to know about Bundaberg Brewed Drinks?

Craft brewed over three days using locally sourced ginger and sugarcane, Bundaberg Brews make the perfect mixer for an array of cocktails. Bundaberg also craft brew a range of other unique fruit flavors, including Peach, Guava and Blood Orange, all made using real ingredients that lend a true depth and refinement to cocktails.

So while the Moscow Mule is an easy option, our other flavors also make for divine cocktails because of the lower carbonation in our beverages. Try the Peach in a Bellini or Melba, the Guava mixes perfectly with rum, Blood Orange is amazing with tequila for a twist on a Paloma and while Lemon Lime & Bitters is traditionally the choice of those who want a non-alcoholic drink, it also pairs brilliantly with any of the white spirits.

We’re finding that bars that are looking to create an experience for their customers and engage them in the whole excitement of what mixology offers want to use a mixer that also fits with that experience. And Bundaberg delivers in spades—the theatre that the product offers with its own opening ritual (the inversion before popping the rip-cap top), combined with its high-quality taste, means bars that are making cocktails with our beverages are seeing the sales and return sales results.

There’s a range of great cocktails on our website.

Tell us briefly about your background in the industry.

My background has been built through 22 years in the business. I worked in a variety of roles throughout that time in Operations and Administration. In 2007, I was appointed CEO, and since then I’ve been working continuously on developing the business both domestically and internationally.

What is your favorite way to enjoy Bundaberg Brewed Drinks?

As simply as possible: cold and straight from the bottle while relaxing and savoring the flavors within.

Anything new for the brand that you’d like to share?

For the Australian and New Zealand market, we are presently releasing a Tropical Mango beverage made with the finest ingredients found in our home state of Queensland. We have achieved a great blend of tropical mangoes with our brewing techniques to create an amazing tasting drink.

For the U.S. market, this year sees us introducing our limited-edition seasonal special as a test trial for the holiday season: Spiced Ginger Beer. It’s been available in Australia and New Zealand over the last few years, and has become, for some, the taste of the holiday season. The flavors of cinnamon and our Ginger Beer go together well to create a fantastic taste adventure for the holidays.