“At some point, you just have to jump in, right?”
Caroline Kiehne (pictured above right) gestures around a space that is totally unrecognisable from just a few short weeks ago. Her and husband and business partner Kris Miles (not in the photo above – that's longtime staff member Patrick Ferguson) already had plenty on but when the bottleshop next door to their iconic Hobart venue The Winston came up for lease they didn’t hesitate.
“There wasn’t a master plan here where we were always planning to take over this space," Caroline says. "The previous proprietor decided not to renew the lease at quite short notice, and we decided we couldn’t pass up the opportunity."
Dial the clock back six short months (even if it feels like six years) and Caroline and Kris might have looked a little mad to take on a bottleshop alongside their thriving venue while working to move The Winston Brewery into a new home with its own taproom. But, in hindsight, it looks like they've opened a drive-thru bottlo at the ideal time.
Like many venues, Caroline and Kris have pivoted their business model quickly to stay alive, offering takeaway food and beer from the pub for the first time. Kris says Winston Cellars has provided them with another stream of income to stay afloat and keep their staff employed.
“It’s meant we have been able to keep all our staff on, albeit with reduced hours to begin with,” he says. “Knowing we were going to be able to open the Cellars meant we could plan well and keep the whole team going.”
Walk through the doors for the first time and it's immediately clear The Winston Cellars is a special space. Most of the walls are taken up by beer fridges, vintage beer paraphernalia in cabinets and on shelves, and a beautiful wooden table with a glass top set in the middle of the room.
“I wanted it to feel a bit like an antique store that you can get lost in," Kris says.
With the attention to detail in some of the cabinets, including the placement of sought after bottles from the likes of Firestone Walker and Wildflower, you could easily lose track of time browsing both fridges and the displays of historic cans and coasters.
“We really want to treat beer with the same respect as wine, and have set up the fridges to reflect that by grouping in style with a focus on singles," Kris says.
They have taken that grouping very seriously, with different fridge temperatures based on the style of beer. The hoppy fridge runs a little colder and takes pride of place in the rear of the cellars.
“We are cold freighting stock in, and keeping it in the cool room out the back when not in this fridge,” Caroline says.
“We intend to keep stock levels low so we can rotate through and keep the hoppy beers as fresh as possible.”
Included in the hoppy fridge are one-litre cans of The Winston beers, a rare sight outside of the pub. The plan is to keep the pale ale a constant and rotate through other offerings of both their own creation and from others.
“We will also be doing cans of some of the limited release kegs we get in," Caroline says. "For example, we received a 30 litre keg of the new Stone Never Ending Haze – the only keg in the state, that we have canned up as we can’t sell it over the bar at the moment."
Kris says they were fortunate to already have ordered the CANimal machine and empty cans before venues closed up and, with a general liquor licence in place, the couple hope that in the near future people will also be able to enjoy drinks in the cellars – or take them next door to the bar to enjoy with some of their famous American-style food.
This certainly isn’t a beer only space however, with Caroline saying they've taken great care with their selection of wine, cider and spirits.
“Our focus is on Tasmanian and Australian wines, with the odd special exception thrown in like the Garage Project Sympatheia or the Mikkeler Wine Geek sparkling can,” she says.
It’s the same with our spirits selection; it’s a focus on niche, and Tasmanian, with exceptions made for breweries that also make spirits, like Rogue in the USA.”
As for the timing of the opening, Caroline says that, while they couldn't open with the kind of raucous celebration anyone who's ever been to The Winston might expect (indeed, the pub's seventh birthday recently passed by quietly), they're glad to be welcoming people through the doors.
“It’s not how we would have planned to open,” says Caroline. “There’s not the big party we would have liked but the silver lining is we can keep people employed.
"In hindsight, we were so lucky we had this project in the works. It’s been a bit of luck and a lot of hard work, and we hope it becomes an extension of the bar with the same ethos where everyone is welcome, no matter what they usually drink.”
The Winston Cellars is open days a week from midday until 8pm, with careful social distancing guidelines in place. Kris and Caroline are opening an online shop very soon too to make use of the drive-in out the front.
As part of the #keepinglocalalive campaign we're running Postcards from the Edge stories, highlighting the ways in which people are adapting to survive. If you've got a story you think is suitable – or have something to add to the campaign resources online – get in touch.