It takes something to stand out from the crowd in today's crowded beer landscape. And, while Sparkke have always been a multi-denominational beverage company rather than solely a brewer, even as they've focused much of their new product development on beer they've retained a character distinct from their peers. In many ways too.
They're one of few female-led operations in the Australian drinks industry, use their products as a platform with which to campaign for causes close to their collective heart, and live the same ethos through the venue they opened in Adelaide in early 2019, the Sparkke At Whitmore. And, since joining the ever-expanding band of businesses to partner with "craft accelerator" Founders First late last year, they're going to be bringing their unique offering to Melbourne as they turn The Vine Hotel in Collingwood – a grand old corner pub that's sat empty for two decades – into their second home.
As with the Whitmore, it will feature an on-site brewery as one part of a multi-faceted venue. If you've visited their Adelaide home, you'll know the result will be unlike the vast majority of renovations of historic hotels – just check out the rooftop at the Whitmore (pictured below), part of a $3m revamp that's taken one of the SA capital's oldest licences in a very new direction.
Sparkke co-founder Rose Kentish says the partnership with Founders First that allowed them to train their sights on Melbourne was "a really positive way" to finish last year and in keeping with their intention to grow both through expanding their range of beer and non-beer products and opening more venues.
She says the aim has always been to create venues "where people could come and experience [what Sparkke is all about] and come and feel it – be in a venue that sells our values and has a really diverse offering.
"Our consumer base is really diverse. We can have such a broad group of people at any one time all enjoying life that wouldn't normally mix in a normal situation. When we started the Whitmore we knew this would be one of many venues we wanted to open across Australia and we're certainly not limited to Australia."
As for the choice of Melbourne, Rose says: "We brew our core range in Victoria [at Brick Lane] so in some respects it's our second home. We love the unique area of Collingwood and Abbotsford as it's the home of brewing."
Thus, after a six month search and a couple of false starts, when they looked at the Vine, she says it "just felt right – a great old building which has heritage like the Whitmore."
At the Whitmore, it's a heritage that's been retained and celebrated within the reimagined venue – one original wall was uncovered and is now a feature of the upstairs level, for example – even as the old boozer has been turned into the most contemporary – and sustainable – of places. On the surface, there's the bold artwork, the "MADE BY WOMEN FOR EVERYONE" mural, the glimpses of the hotel's past; but underneath is an approach in keeping with their social activism.
There's the environmentally passive design of the building itself, the three-vessel water treatment installed underneath the brewery that returns water to the grid in as good, if not better condition than it was prior to being used for brewing, and the move towards using growlers. Then there's the gender neutral toilets, the choice to have no tap or soft drink contracts – a move that means no post-mix behind the bar, a system that turns lights on and off as required, and the zero waste approach in the kitchen.
Head chef Emma McCaskill and the team work together to close the loop on that front, with all elements of the produce that enters the kitchen used in one of the venue's two menus. Trimmings and leftovers often find their way into staff meals too – meals we're told are far more delicious than that might sound. And, when it comes to choosing supply partners, they only purchase from like-minded companies.
As for the beer, while Sparkke have only released two in cans to date – the R-E-S-P-E-C-T mid-strength pilsner and The Last Straw New England Pale, which calls for an end to single use plastics – they have been filling the taps at the Whitmore with an ever-changing selection as they look to expand the range. Two of the beers previously only seen on tap at the pub are set to appear as limited release cans mid-April: a red ale and black IPA with messages about climate change and species extinction.
Initially, brewing was in the hands of Agi Gajic but following her move to join the brewing team at Mismatch earlier this year that role has been passed to Carla Naismith.
"Looking to the future, new product development driven by Rose is really exciting," says Agi, who remains a shareholder in Sparkke and was head brewer for three-and-half-years after moving from Young Henrys.
Agi says the ability to slot into the Founders First national sales team and the redevelopment of The Vine will allow the company to spread its reach and philosophy.
"We want to put ourselves on the map nationally," she says.
The intention with The Vine is to bring the ethos underlying the Whitmore – plus a separate brewery and head brewer – to Collingwood, albeit with a design that reflects Melbourne's climate; don't go looking for a replica of the Adelaide pub's rooftop.
"We will be among friends in Collingwood," Rose says. "It is a suburb that historically and currently attracts makers and creatives. The Vine will be a community focused public meeting house with delicious brews, great food and no pokies.
"The development underway in apartments and office buildings around The Vine means that locals will have a local brewpub to frequent; it feels like there's a community that's building there that will appreciate all the things we will be doing at The Vine."
The move to Melbourne and expansion of their beverage lineup form just part of the grand plan Rose and co-founder and marketer Kari Allen have for Sparkke, however.
"Our intention is to become quite an extraordinary alcohol company," Rose says. "Our vision is worldwide not just Australia.
"We're having conversations with organisations around the world that want to work with us. We want to make sure the bevvies we make are delicious, sessionable, all natural – and that we always have a connection back to the organisations that we give money to, that are at the front line of social change.
"We're working hard to make delicious brews, connect with people, and make a difference, so we can move in conscious, considered way towards the change we want to see in the world. Our aim is to put 'the good' back into our alcohol industry."