Perhaps the most curious thing about looking at Bucket Boys from the street is that it's hard to tell what they sell. Even once you step inside you don’t see much. On the left is a shelf holding a sparse selection of trinkets: a few magazines and a handful of snacks. On the right is a floor-to-ceiling mural of a man in overalls carrying a dozen pails. In front is the counter, the bottom half polished black tiles contrasting with a light Scandinavian wood top almost totally devoid of objects.
The design is open, minimalist and makes use of bold blocks of colour. It looks like an art gallery. It certainly doesn't look like a bottleshop. But it is. And an excellent one at that. Oh, and it's a beer bar too.
The boys behind the buckets are Clint Elvin and Johnathan Hepner, a duo that worked at various points of beer’s public facing coalface – think brewery tasting room, pubs, bars, tours – before pooling their resources (and in Johnathan's case, going to beer school and becoming a qualified Cicerone) to create a specialist beer store unlike anything else in the city.
Beyond the spacious open entrance, the middle of the store is where things start to get serious on the beer front. It's a section that looks like something you'd find at a brewery cellar door, with a wooden bar sitting opposite an exposed brick wall where four taps pour a selection of fresh draught beer for growler fills. Most of that beer comes from local breweries, some is international, and some has been brewed by the Bucket Boys themselves; they collaborate with breweries across the country – under the eyes of unofficial Bucket Boys head brewers Jay Cook and Ben Miller – on an ever-expanding, boundary-pushing range of beers; run a crazy idea through your own mind and there's a good chance they've not only thought about already but actually brewed it. The thing with Bucket Boys beers is they tend not to brew anything twice, ensuring they turn things over quickly and keep things interesting for their customers.
Beyond this is what you would expect to find in a bottleshop: bottles and, increasingly, cans. And with the exception of a few large ones with high ABV, every item of packaged product – and there are several hundred – is kept refrigerated. While primarily meant for keeping things in good condition, it happens to make it rather convenient for popping in on your way to one of Marrickville’s legendary Vietnamese BYO restaurants.
The first fridge is dedicated solely to Sydney beer, much of which has been picked up from breweries located only a few kilometres away so you know you’ll be choosing from some of the freshest in town. The second set of fridges covers the rest of Australia where, to ensure they retain a point of difference for the most enthusiastic of their beer loving clientele, Clint and Johnathan spend a lot of time sourcing beer directly from Aussie breweries that don’t normally ship beyond their catchment area. That means, hiding among the rest of the range, keen eyes will always spot a few treats that you’ll find nowhere else in Sydney – they've actually gone so far down the sourcing route that Bucket Boys has become distributor to several far flung Aussie brewers.
Beyond that comes the rest of the world, from New Zealand across to Europe – with Belgium particularly well represented – and ending with a healthy selection from the USA. Amid that selection you’re bound to find pretty much anything you want, unless what you’re looking for is a mainstream brand because they don’t stock ‘em. Instead they back themselves to help you find something local you’ll enjoy that little bit more.
Those who aren’t into beer but who have stumbled in looking for a takeaway of another sort won't be left disappointed. The selection of Australian wines is focused on small producers, includes some obscure varietals and many are sourced directly from cellar doors on trips to winemaking regions which, like some of the beer, means you’re unlikely to find them at any other bottleshop. The spirit selection is similarly small-minded in that it focuses on the growing number of local distillers.
As for the bar, it continues the themes of its forebear: the bold, most unbeer-like of colour schemes and taps pouring the sort of beers that get its owners excited and should excite you too. There's bar seating, tables both high and low and plenty of room to gather with mates for a session where, in a role reversal, you can BYO foo from the neighbouring restaurants.
Whether you prefer bottleshop or bar, this whole place feels like the kind where you want to linger, lean on the counter, taste things and talk. Bucket Boys is a most welcome evolution in Sydney’s burgeoning beer scene, one that can turn the simple act of buying a beer into an experience.