Mikey Enright and Julian Train, the team behind the Barrelhouse Group and The Barber Shop and The Duke of Clarence are preparing to fulfil a long-held vision with the opening of a distillery in the heart of Sydney.
Joined by ex-Manly Spirits Distiller Tim Stones, the trio are launching Hickson House Distilling Co, which will feature a fully operational distillery and accompanying bar at the former Saatchi & Saatchi garage in The Rocks.
“It’s been a long journey to get here, for me personally it’s been a dream for 10 years to have my own distillery, so it’s very exciting and has definitely been part of our vision for quite a while,” Train told The Shout.
In terms of the location, Train said while they weren’t specifically looking for a location in The Rocks they were very keen to keep within a certain ring around the city.
“We split the city up between us, so that we could each look at different commercial properties and it took us around a year-and-a-half to find Hickson House,” he said.
“We had a few that nearly went ahead, but then we settled on this which has the best of everything that we were looking for. It’s got the space and the access, it’s a got a beautiful heritage aspect to it, so we’re really in a place that ticks all the boxes.”
And that enthusiasm bred by the right location has, along with support from the Government and those behind a masterplan to revive The Rocks, given the trio the confidence to ahead with all the distillery and bar aspects of the venue.
“It would have been easy in the current climate to delay things on the hospitality side, but the State Government, the owners of the building and people driving the [Rocks masterplan] strategy are so committed to it that they have really supported us hugely,” Train said.
“They just want to see us succeed, and they’ve really supported us, so we felt right with forging ahead and we’re really committed to kicking things off and getting the hospitality side open and we are all guns blazing.”
Looking at how the bar and distillery will work alongside each other, Enright told The Shout: “It’s a beautiful building, and it looks essentially like a warehouse and we felt like it was a gift to us.
“We just thought ‘wow’ and we could see the distillery on one side and the hospitality area on the other. The hospitality area will hold around 150 people, but because of the size of ceilings it will feel a lot bigger, but it’s really a small bar, borderline medium-sized bar.”
Train added: “Our priority was making sure it is a fully operational spirits distillery, creating products from start to finish, not just something for show. It’s really a serious operation down there and the bar is there to host people. It’s an operation in its own right, and we were also really committed to having a bar that wasn’t just an add-on. We really want to make sure that what we’re doing on the hospitality side speaks to our strengths so people can come down, see a full working distillery but also be in a proper bar making really great drinks.”
To put that into context, Enright told The Shout: “When we did The Barber Shop, we didn’t do the barber’s just as a gimmick, it’s a full-fledged operational, professional set-up. It’s the same thing here, we’re not just doing a bar and sticking a still in the corner, this is no gimmick it’s a proper distillery.
“Likewise with the bar, we wanted to have a fully operational bar. You do see some distilleries with a bar and they only have their products in it and we just did not want to do that. We want to have a fully-fledged bar because we think that’s what will make it really appealing and make people come and visit us.”
He added: “The way we are designing it is to stock it with the spirits that we love and with our friends and brands that have supported us over the years.”
Hickson House Distilling Co will create gins, aperitifs, whiskies and specialist spirits; starting with a range of Hickson Road Gins, including a culinary-inspired gin paired with a complementary kangaroo dish; all crafted with locally-sourced ingredients, such as native botanicals from The Loch farm at Berrima in New South Wales’ Southern Highlands.
There will be immersive, experiential tours, culminating with tastings, the spirit store and private dining experiences. The mezzanine lounge sits above the expansive bar, which will serve bespoke cocktails alongside a botanical-inspired menu.
The total venue space is 450m2 with 180m2 dedicated to the bar, kitchen and mezzanine area.
The vision is for the bar to open in June 2021, and that timetable is still in place for the team, Enright added: “Our vision is to create a city distillery that feels balanced by a fully-stocked bar serving all of our favourite spirits, so patrons can come for a full behind-the-scenes distilling experience or just a simple G&T.
“As the world slowly comes back to life, we see The Rocks becoming a beacon for all Australians and, eventually, overseas visitors. Tim, Jules and I can’t wait to pull up Hickson House’s iconic roller-door in June.”