As we sit on the deck of the new home for Never Never Distillery, we are looking out at the amazing view of McLaren Vale, surrounded by a committed cross-section of drinkers. At the table next to us, a young man is pointing to the hills in the distance, telling his older companion that a depiction of their shape has been on the brand’s label since it started.
A few minutes later, a hush descends over the gathering as one of Never Never’s founders, George Georgiadis, begins a speech that outlines the story in more detail. “You might know that the landscape on our bottle is a representation of McLaren Vale,” he says.
“When we put that on our label, we were in a 16sqm space at the back of Big Shed Brewing, we had no idea that we would end up here. It was something that we really wanted to achieve, so to be able to see this happen today is incredibly special.”
Launching a craft distillery is a monumental effort, but then expanding the business only two-and-a-half years later into a permanent home, that has views across the valley, a massive deck and a cocktail bar big enough to do tastings, is truly a feat of mythical proportions.
But like any business, sometimes running a distillery is a bit like a duck. On the surface, it all looks like everything is gliding along but under the water, the webbed feet are paddling frantically. And this has been very much the case for Never Never over the last few weeks.
With one foot still in their old warehouse space in the centre of Adelaide and the other in their shiny new home, it would be understandable that the brand is feeling a little in limbo as they make the transition.
“We’re 95% of the way there,” said Brand Director, Sean Baxter with a rye smile. He is one of the magicians who, along with his partners, Georgiadis and Head Distiller Tim Boast, have pulled a rabbit out of their hat with this new brand space.
“When we first started we knew that we needed a brand home and McLaren Vale was it. We didn’t even have a site, but we had an ambition that drove us,” said Baxter. “We even got a local artist to draw McLaren Vale on our label, after that there was no going back.”
And McLaren Vale was a solid bet. Tourism Research Australia reports that tourism figures for the area have nearly tripled over the last four years. In a predominantly wine-based area, the new distillery, as part of the Chalk Hill Collective, promises to add another impressive element to McLaren Vale’s ever-expanding hospitality offerings.
At the distillery bar, bartenders busy themselves making a range of speciality cocktails that show off the brands spirits, but on the other side of the wall, Boast is reassembling their 300L capacity pot column hybrid still, which they have shined up for the occasion. The working side of the distillery is slowly coming together.
As Baxter explains that the brand have a larger 1000L capacity still on the way, which will push their volume significantly, you begin to realise just how much the brand has managed to achieve “We are still a small Australian brand, but we have sizeable ambitions to become much bigger,” says Baxter.
Not only has the brand positioned itself as one of the most respected distilleries in the country but they have also created an enviable space in which to show their liquid off. The brand may have set out to create a juniper revolution but it seems that they have also unwittingly shown exactly how much hard work, belief and a little help from your friends can actually achieve.
“Chalk Hill opened their hill to us and gave us an opportunity to share their incredible space,” Baxter continued. “Having a brand home will allow us to showcase the hospitality that has always inspired the products we make and the industry we represent.”
As Georgiadis continues his speech, he also talks about the shared connection that Never Never had with the Chalk Hill brand and goes on to say that the distillery’s move to the Vale would not have been possible without their assistance and this shared space.
On one side of the site is the Distillery Door and Cocktail Bar but on the other side of the central walkway is the wine bar for Chalk Hill. It is a true cooperative between the brands, as well as Pizzateca who are bringing their other business, Vera Pizza Oztalia to the site in March.
“We will have a range of experiences on offer up the hill, all centred around the incredible tasting space and view,” continues Baxter. “Guests will be invited to sample gin flights, take guided tours of the production space, indulge in some amazing cocktail experiences and take in a masterclass (when they begin).
The space fits approximately 60 people seated in the tasting room and cocktail bar and another hundred out on the deck. Overseeing it all is Stewart Morrow (formally of Sydney’s Baxter Inn) who has implemented an exhaustive training program, which will see the staff not only deliver in-depth tasting experiences but also bang-out some exceptional cocktails.
“I think people are far more aware of the products they consume,” Baxter continues. “They want to see where it’s made and how, they want to hear the stories of why it’s made a particular way and from what.
“Before people part with their hard-earned, they want an experience that reminds them that what they are purchasing is special. We aim to fulfil that ambition, through guided gin tastings and a bottle of gin (or two).”