Over the course of a decade, the siblings behind Blackhearts & Sparrows have opened a string of beautiful stores; after making it nine locations in Melbourne, they spread the love further afield with their tenth store, bringing their independent and intimate brand of liquor retail to the nation’s capital.
The Canberra store finds its home in buzzing Braddon, where, like the other Blackhearts stores, it combines function and form, substance and style. Anyone who’s been to Blackheart’s main beer outlet in Fitzroy North may arrive at the Canberra store expecting a timber-pallet-lined wonderland, but what they’ll find is a little different.
While there’s a very real family resemblance between the Canberra store and its stablemates, terracotta is the main star here – terracotta tiles on the floor; a wall to the right of the entrance is all custom-made terracotta clay tubes, housing wine bottles like bees in honeycomb – with timber in a supporting role. Depending on which generation you relate to, it’s either “aesthetically pleasing” or “super Instagrammable”. Add a couple of wine barrels and you’re left with the sense of being in the wine cellar of a Spanish villa.
The Blackhearts & Sparrows story includes a move from focusing predominantly on quality wines to bringing a growing variety of excellent beer into the fold, and this story is personified in Tony Richardson, co-owner and manager of the Braddon store. Tony’s an ex-winemaker who’s been part of the Blackhearts & Sparrows story since the beginning, and his journey over the past decade has included a growing passion for beer, something he instills in his staff.
If you enjoy recommendations, you’re in luck: Tony and his staff pride themselves on not only knowing their stock, but on matching the right beer to the right person. They’re experts at pinpointing the beer that’ll suit your taste preferences; or, if you’re not sure what you want, Tony can turn to his background in wine to help with a food match; “First question I ask people is, ‘What are you having tonight?’.”
Of course, if you prefer to explore the store on your own, that’s always an option too. Whether it’s the warmth of the earthy aesthetic or the warmth of the customer service, people seem to be in no hurry to leave Blackhearts once they’re inside. While most bottleshops are purely transactional – walk in, buy your booze, walk out – Blackhearts creates a comfortable atmosphere that encourages people to hang around and linger over their choices.
“People definitely enjoy the actual space,” Tony says. “Friday nights we have tastings, and people come in with friends and just park here for a while.”
But it’s not just about Friday nights – at any time, the range of drinks to choose from plays no small part in this trend of people taking their time. Two-thirds of the space is taken up with rows of carefully curated wines, but head deeper into the store to find the cold altar to malt, hops and yeast.
Six fridges of beer boast around 250 options to choose from, mostly in tinnies. They’re arranged by style rather than brewery: lagers in this fridge, sours in this fridge, IPAs in this fridge. Of course, it’s not always so clear cut; with all the experimental and hybrid creations coming out of breweries, styles can bleed into each other, so you might have to hunt around to find that sour farmhouse IPA.
While you’re looking, you’ll spot a few collabs Blackhearts & Sparrows have helped create with various friends in the industry; at time of writing, they’ve partnered with Sailors Grave, Stomping Ground, Boatrocker and CoConspirators (CoConspirators’ character The Merchant is B&S co-founder Jess). Might as well pop them in the basket too; after all, you get a discount for a mixed six-pack, so it’d be a shame to stop before you reach that point.
If you find yourself looking through the bottles of wine, you’ll also spy the fruit of Blackhearts’ connections in the wine industry; they’ve partnered with wine producers including One Block, Arfion, Latta, Ravensworth, Punch and Bobar to bring numerous creations to life under the Grafted Editions label.
When you’re ready to leave, don’t be surprised to find yourself eyeing off the display cabinet of cheeses and the artfully packaged Jasper + Myrtle chocolate. Aged Comté and tart chèvre pair with farmhouse ales as well as they do with various wines, and the rich blueberry dark chocolate begs to sit next to an imperial stout.
The combination of all these elements may sound like a recipe for a boutique store bordering on elitism, but nothing could be further from the truth – Blackhearts is far from pretentious. Come in for a six-pack, have a laid-back chat with Tony, and check out the wall of smiling doggo polaroids on your way out.