Marrickville has a reputation as Sydney’s craft beer capital – now it’s becoming just as popular with juniper devotees. The inner west neighbourhood is awash with gin bars and distilleries – the latest of which is the first bricks-and-mortar spot from Unexpected Guest.
Until now, the boozy brand has been housed in a 1972 Kombi Lowlight – a tangerine dream fondly named Gertrude – travelling between markets, festivals and private events; its drops served from a makeshift bar on the vehicle’s tray. Now they’re poured in a warehouse that previously served as a mechanic’s workshop (it is Marrickville, after all), revamped with a flashy copper still, a terrazzo-tiled bar and plenty of cosy places to sit.
“The space is very eclectic, loud and fun,” owner and master distiller Jane Owen tells Broadsheet. “It’s a working distillery, so you can see all the workings, where we do the boxing. All the machinery is on view, with our beautiful still beside the bar.”
This year, gift them a dinner to remember with a Broadsheet Gift Card.SHOP NOW
Around the machinery, the space reflects the personality and creativity of the brand. A vivid strip of sunset orange – the same that dresses Gertrude – does a half-lap around the room’s perimeter, while quirky furnishings and retro art adorn the walls and shelving. The fit-out takes its cues from Unexpected Guest’s four-strong line-up of gins: Clementine’s American Gin, Young Tom’s Bathtub Gin, Bobby’s London Dry Gin and Disco Flamingo’s Pink Gin. Each has its own distinct character, the playfulness reflecting the very reason Owen moved into the business in the first place.
“I’d been in office work for a lot of my life and I was looking for something different,” she says. “[My husband and I] were on a trip overseas, in Devon in the UK, and we’d gone to a gin-tasting class, but when we walked in it was a gin-making class. We didn’t make very good gin, but we had a lot of fun.”
By the time they were on the plane home, they’d purchased Gertrude. A baby still was next – they started experimenting with flavours and botanicals. Once the quartet of drops were perfected and bottled, the team enlisted Phoebe Scutts – a gin-obsessed hospo all-rounder – to craft a cocktail menu and head up the bar. The drinks are classics with quirks: a Tom Collins laced with a yuzushu sourced from next-door neighbour Black Market Sake, a caffeinated Negroni where the Campari has been steeped in coffee beans, a dirty Martini with a stuffed olive. What’s set to be a summer favourite? The less classic, more unexpected I Scream and Squawk, a mix of Disco Flamingo’s raspberry hue and Messina’s lemon sorbet topped up with bubbles.
The fare is snacky yet considered, with “dip and bickies”; a charcuterie board complete with truffled salami, bresaola and bread; and a serve of Perelló – read: the best – green olives. The finisher is the Disco Cheesecake, a Basque beauty topped with Disco Flamingo raspberry coulis. “She’s our most popular gin of all. We use our Bobby’s London Dry as a base, steeped in organic Australian raspberries for two to six weeks. It’s more like a gin liqueur because it’s still 40 per cent ABV.”
The room is split into different seating areas, each based on a character. There’s plush seating and art covering the walls in Clementine’s corner, and there’s a record player surrounded by comfy seating in Young Tom’s digs, forming a makeshift drinking den. The bathrooms? Hot pink for Disco Flamingo – “You’ll need your sunglasses in there.” Gertrude is on display at the back (and still drives out for events).
If you’re sitting at the bar when a plane roars directly overhead – a frequent event – bar staff will slide an airplane chocolate over to you without a word, “maybe just a raised eyebrow”.
The venue is a big shift in service for the team, but one they’re ready for. “Just before we opened, one of those late nights, we pulled out the original bottle of gin we’d made in Devon,” Owen says. “We all had a sip and had a good giggle about how raw it tasted. It was lovely to see how far we’ve come.”
Unexpected Guest Gin Bar and Cellar Door
12 Cadogan St, Marrickville
Thu & Fri 3pm–8pm