Being the first to do something is already a huge feat, and one made even more impressive when you lead the pack in a field as vibrant as the Australian drinks industry.
In Queensland, The Hospo Group already had a handful of these accomplishments, including the first small bar in Cairns and the first distillery in Cairns. Now they add another – the first distillery bar in Cairns.
Director for The Hospo Group, Darren Barber, described the group’s journey in the past six years, after he moved to Cairns from Sydney in 2014.
“We opened a bar up here in Cairns in 2016 called Three Wolves, and that was Cairns’ first proper small bar. A little laneway bar, 300+ whiskies, a really good cocktail range, all that kind of stuff,” Barber said.
“From there we opened another little bar inside the Hilton Hotel up here called Gin Social and that’s where our love of gin really took off so we really started to dive into gin.”
It was during this exploration of gin that Barber said they started experimenting with gin recipes on a small scale. Then, an old red brick building space became available in the laneway across from Three Wolves. Such a space is rare in Cairns and The Hospo Group jumped on it with the intention of making it into another bar.
However, they first decided to try their luck with a DA for a distillery in the space, something Barber said he didn’t think would be approved due to the central location away from an industrial area. In early 2019 he was proven wrong when they did receive that approval, and set about building out the Wolf Lane Distillery. But that wasn’t all that was happening at the time – while creating their distillery, the group also opened yet another new bar elsewhere in the city, Flamingos Tiki Bar.
All that work paid off when the distillery opened in October last year, and now only months later, the distillery bar.
“We always wanted to do a little gin cocktail bar in [the distillery], it was just a matter of getting the approval. We got the approval for the wholesale manufacturing licence and needed a separate one for the bar licence,” Barber explained.
“So we stripped the building back to its roots really – its an old brick building and we painted all the bricks white so it’s nice and light, and the ceilings are all open so you can see all of the old timber beams in the roof. All our stainless steel holding tanks sit right amongst all the seating, because during the week it is a full proper working distillery.”
The light open plan space has a long bar and lots of greenery, with a small back bar that mainly showcases the Wolf Lane Distillery products. The bar and these products aim to stay true to the local area, and showcase what it has to offer.
“Our main gin is our Tropical Gin which uses botanicals from our local region. We try to show the unique taste that represents our region and our climate up here,” Barber said.
“Part of our ethos is trying to build a better drinking culture up here, especially in a town that was kind of known for backpackers and cheap pubs… it’s really good to be part of that culture and help build that. From there, we’re seeing a lot of other bars and concepts open up, which I hope we had a part in doing.”
Although the Wolf Lane Distillery Bar has only been open for a matter of weeks, its reception has already been great, which is made all the more positive during a time when things seem so negative.
Barber said that Coronavirus definitely impacted them, noting: “We had plans of doing this before Corona, but then it kicked in and we had to shut down all our other venues and we did switch the distillery over to be one of the first to make hand sanitiser in Australia… we had the approvals ready but we didn’t do the build in the distillery until there was some sort of sight of opening up in the future.”
“We’re still limited in numbers up here so with the size of the space we can fit 20 at a time, but it’s been going really well. We’re only open Friday Saturday nights during COVID, but it’s full both nights… and we have seen an uprise in takeaway bottle sales – people trying the products here and then deciding to take bottles home, so that’s been good.”