Hickson House Distillery and Bar has celebrated its first birthday this month and it’s a year that has thrown down a variety of highlights for the team behind the venue, Julian Train, Mickey Enright and Distiller Tim Stones.
But as well as challenges like fork-lift gradients and distilling in a heritage building, there has been a number of highlights as the trio explained to Bars and Clubs.
“I won’t lie, it’s putting liquid into a whisky barrel for the first time,” Train said, “that’s a massive, massive highlight.”
Perhaps not a surprise to hear Julian say that, after he said when the Hickson House concept was first announced back in 2021, that it had been a 10-year dream to have his own distillery.
For Stones the key highlight of the last 12 months was, “seeing a gin that took five years from inception to finish, finally going into a bottle. And then seeing that win Hottest 100 Spirits, that was really nice.”
And highlighting the different dynamics that make this trio work, Mikey said: “From my side, two of the highlights would be to see the bar absolutely pumping on New Year’s Eve, and secondly it’s seeing the spirits getting made from scratch, those are two amazing experiences for me.”
It’s a wide range of highlights for the team, which is a perfect fit for the wide offering of the Hickson House bar itself, not only is it a distillery, but there are around 200 local and international whiskies on offer, as well as a delightful range of cocktails, so who is heading there?
“When you’re establishing a new bar it takes about 12 months, no matter where you are, to establish the brand itself,” Enright said. “And there’s lots of different functions to what we do here, there’s tours, online store, in-store, creating spirit, dining, feasting menu, canapes and a full beverage list to go with all that.
“We feel now, like the brand is getting more established and people are starting to know where we are, and we are in a very quiet spot in The Rocks, there’s not much foot traffic that we can rely on. So we just have to keep working hard at it, there’s no science to it. We just have to work hard. We just have to keep going and going, looking at the marketing strategy and how we advertise ourselves.
“For instance our birthday party this year looks a lot different to what we did last year at the launch, so we just have to evolve with what’s right and what we think is going to work.”
Train and Enright have worked together at Barrelhouse Group for a number of years with successful bars in the YCK Precinct, but Hickson House with its distillery and heritage listing does offer different challenges, as Julian explained.
“I think because there’s so many things going [at Hickson] the biggest challenge has been to succinctly explain what we are, because we’re doing so many things. We do have a mix of people coming in, most people when they have done a tour will definitely hang around for multiple drinks, if not dinner as well.
“But then we do have multitudes of people coming in because they have heard about us, heard the food is great. So it is a nice problem to have, but with so many different elements to what we are doing it can be hard to message it clearly.
“This also means that we do appeal to a lot of different people from gin nerds and whisky nerds to people who love a nice bottle of red with there steak and a lot of people from overseas, which is great because we haven’t had that for such a long time and people are coming in and being really inquisitive about what we are doing.”
Surprisingly decent being a hop and skip from the overseas passenger terminal, Train said it’s not a large amount of overseas cruisers.
“Cruises are interesting in that they are very pre-planned on what they are going to do. But what we are seeing is way more feet on the street down here. There’s no doubt it is getting busier and busier, and it’s not just cruises, it’s general tourism coming back, which is great to see.”
He added: “I will say this, I feel that most of our crowd here are locals. It’s people who live and work in the CBD, we’re not no the tourist trail, per se, which is great.”
But as much as The Rocks revival is underway, the team said there is a lot more that can be done to draw more people to the area.
Train said: “There a lot of potential [here], but, for all the right reasons, it’s hamstrung by the speed at which things happen because of all the heritage things that happen down here. Everyone’s got the right intentions, but you have to do everything the right way and that’s absolutely for the right reasons.”
So what are people drinking when they get to the bar?
“Martinis are getting it a really good go, they are clearly a winner. Some of our contemporary drinks are proving really popular, [Bar Manager] Raph has done an incredible job with the menu. He’s got an incredible palate and he’ll start to do more with Stones.
“Our Summer Cup is red hot at the moment, which is just 60mls of Summer Cup, 120ml of Ginger Ale, cucumber, strawberries and mint, it’s pretty simple but it’s really delicious.”
The Hickson Road Summer Cup is the latest limited release from the team, following from the Tepache Barrel Aged Gin released last year, which sit alongside the core range of Hickson Road London Dry Gin, Australian Dry Gin and Harbour Strength Gin.
Stones explained the process in creating these liquids.
“We did a lot of tinkering with the London Dry, five years is a long time to develop a recipe but that’s set and so now it’s just about consistency and replication,” he told Bars and Clubs. “We had over 100 iterations of the Australian Dry Gin, so we’re in a really good place with that, so that means we can work on the limited releases and NPD.
“The Tepache aged gin was really serendipitous, a friend of mine at a brewery phoned me up and said ‘we’ve got this Tepache barrel that we’ve been playing around with to make a Tepache-inspired wheat beer, do you want the barrel?’ He and I have been bouncing barrels off each other for a while at other places, so I said ‘yeah sure’.
“It was a great fluke, we had a batch of London Dry that had gone a bit cloudy so we thought ‘let’s put it in this barrel for two months and see what happens’ and then it stayed in for two-and-a-half months purely because I forgot about it.
“A lot of things are just wait and see, but Summer Cup was more ‘let’s put together a cocktail’. So there were a few different methods in how that was created, collaborating with Regal Rogue, getting the colour and flavour we wanted as the Australian variation on Pimms.”
Enright added: “We’re at a really good point now, because we’ve got through the hurdles, the trails and tribulations and now its focusing on product development, brand development and things like that. So we’re in a really good spot now.”
That’s a great summary of where Hickson House is right now, both with a bar that is establishing itself strongly with a variety of punters and a distillery that is gaining momentum in both the on- and off-premise. Plus there is whisky aging in a barrel, with promises of more news on that to follow, as well as other exciting NPD from the team.
So it’s a very happy birthday to Hickson House Distillery and Bar and we’re looking forward to seeing what the next year and beyond brings.
This article originally appeared in Bars & Clubs. Subscribe to the newsletter here.