Making excellent beer, wine or spirits involves a fair bit of science. Indeed, brewers often talk about the process of beer-making being a blend of art and science. When it comes to presenting thoughtful and carefully crafted alcohol to drinkers, however, it's more about their ability – and that of those selling them – to bring people together and foster a sense of community.
Which brings us to Natural Science Wine & Liquor, a bottleshop where science, design and warm hospitality meet as one.
The store opened its doors at the start of 2022 in the eastern Melbourne suburb of Blackburn. Sitting in the quiet Laburnum Village, right next to the train station of the same name, the store is the realisation of a long-held vision for Tristan Jallais and Joyce Chua.
Tristan grew up in the area and had spent many years working in hospitality in Melbourne’s north before deciding it was time to bring the standard of craft beer and quality wine he’d been serving over bars to an area where such offerings were lacking.
About midway through 2021, the pair found the right store to bring their vision to life. And while securing a lease on a new business just as Melbourne entered another long COVID lockdown could be seen as a negative, that wasn’t the case here. Instead, it proved to be perfect timing, giving them the second half of the year in which to work tirelessly on shaping the space into the refined experience Tristan and Joyce had in mind.
It’s safe to say the results are quite stunning. Walk in and you’re met by a store that’s both pared-back and inviting. There’s a sense of nostalgia running through it that’s neatly encapsulated in Natural Science’s clean, modernist logo. But there are also warming design features that run throughout, including the shade of green covering the floors and running halfway up the walls, and the yellow counter that glistens in the afternoon sun. Think of it as existing somewhere between a classic milk bar and a vinyl shop and you’re on the right track, although unlike a typical corner store the range is deliberately kept tight – everything’s there for a reason.
Sure, if you want a fantastic local spirit, wine or beer then you’ll find just what you seek, but you’re also likely to walk out with something you hadn’t considered beforehand.
The fridges are filled with largely Victorian beers, but you won’t find 500 different cans and every single new release staring back at you. Instead, Natural Science is highly curated: beers tend to be presented by brewery rather than style in the hope people will come back to explore something new from a name they love, or decide to work through a newcomer’s entire range. It’s a policy that means beers are kept chilled and, more importantly, stock tends to move quickly so customers can enjoy them at their freshest.
That said, opening a bottleshop that looks good and is filled with stuff that tastes good is only part of what makes Natural Science what it is. Fundamentally, it’s about being a part of the community and Tristan’s long career in hospitality makes him the perfect guide for anyone wanting to discover what’s tasting great, what’s new, and what’s interesting.
The store regularly hosts a tasting night at which it’s rare for anyone to leave empty-handed and from which nobody leaves without a smile. And although the store is located a stone’s throw from Laburnum Station, it’s not just office workers popping in on the way home to grab something to accompany a midweek dinner or their weekend’s activities. Instead, it’s become a destination for Blackburn and surrounds, a place attracting people dedicated to exploring new flavours.
Natural Science Wine & Liquor: it’s science and it’s design. But, fundamentally, it’s a well-rounded bottleshop with discovery and sense of community at its heart.