Few breweries across Australia are so readily associated with US-inspired, hop-driven beers as Akasha. It's a reputation that's well-deserved and readily welcomed by the team at the Five Dock brewery, even if they release rather more than mere variations on that theme.
But, for their next move, they've been working on something altogether different.
In the coming weeks, they'll throw open the doors to The Barrel Room by Akasha in the Sydney suburb of Leichhardt. It's only a few kilometres from their brewery taproom, but the aim is to create a space that sits far apart from their home base in terms of concept and offering.
The name gives the central conceit away: this will be the only place on the planet – at least initially – where you'll be able to sample beers from their small but evolving barrel program. But they're going beyond merely exploring another facet of beer to create a venue that reflects society's increasingly polygamous approach to drinks.
"Last year, we made a decision to expand our hospitality offering," brewery founder Dave Padden told The Crafty Pint when we called in for a tour of what was still something of a building site, filled with cardboard boxes rather than oak.
"What we are bringing together is somewhat unique – there's not a lot of barrel-ageing around," he adds. "At the end of the day, it's beer and wine and spirits, which isn't anything unique, but we wanted to bring the experience back."
The intention to expand their hospo offering was central to the crowdfunding campaign Akasha ran with Equitise earlier in the year, ultimately raising $1.73m. In the first of five pillars outlined in the Growth Strategy section of their offer, they stated: "By 2026 Akasha aims to build a destination venue like no other, with a new state of the art production facility offering a complete food and beverage experience.
"The goal is to also expand the venue footprint, growing to three venues in NSW, and adding one in Victoria and one in WA."
The Barrel Room is the first of those new venues, taking shape in a spot in Norton Street that will be familiar to Sydneysiders with a fondness for good beer: in a past life it was home to Creek & Cella wine bar.
"We were looking around [for a venue] when this came up," Dave says. "It was exactly the space we had in mind [as] we wanted to focus on a high-end bar menu."
Initial discussions about developing a barrel program began three years ago, with the first liquids going into barrels around 18 months ago. According to Dave, it was a case of asking: "What else can we do that we'll be just as passionate about as IPA? What do we love as much as IPA? And everybody in the brewery loves sour beer."
Since then, they've amassed a collection of barrels from various sources: some come from Robert Stein's Winery & Vineyard in Mudgee, with whom the Akasha team has a longstanding and collaborative relationship, while you'll find beers aged in ex-Jack Daniel's and Pedro Ximenez barrels too.
"We've got 20 to 30 barrels, so we're doing very small batches," Dave says. "They'll only be available here; this venue is all about these beers."
That said, they'll be pouring a selection of other Akasha beers on tap, including some other Berliner weisse-style sours, as part of a broad, predominantly Australian-sourced offering covering wine, spirits and, in particular, cocktails. Special attention has been focused on the kitchen too, its centrepiece a pizza oven that seems to have the team just as excited as the new beers.
Mickey Tamone has been hired to oversee the drinks menu, bringing with him experience in bars both in Sydney and New York, where he spent five years.
Reflecting the suburb's Italian heritage in their approach, Mickey says: "The way we are pitching it is traditional Italian cocktails, given signature twists by the Australian and New Zealand ingredients: fun and new and different – a premium venue that's the best in the street for cocktails and wine."
Once it's open, you'll find Akasha's beers making up around a third of the drinks. When it comes to those that have spent time in oak, as with his passion for all things IPA, Dave says the move into barrels was inspired by Russian River, as well as other American producers of barrel-aged beers and American sours.
"When I went to the States four years ago, I spent a lot of time at places like Russian River and Rare Barrel and fell in love with the American sour style," he says. "I've always loved Sierra Nevada's barrel-aged stuff too, like their barrel-aged stouts, and that's what we want to play with."
As such, the path they've embarked upon has seen them creating "clean" barrel-aged beers, including their Scottish Wee Heavy aged in bourbon barrels, on the one hand while exploring sour styles on the other. Although, as Dave admits, it's "a fairly loose plan about what we're going to brew."
While the barrel-aged beers will only be available at the new venue, the barrels themselves are maintained in a building close to their Five Dock brewery, where there are more changes ahead – not least the installation of what Dave calls "a beautiful brewery" in late January. Once that's up and running, they've got plans for the existing brewhouse, but that's a story for another day.
Back in Norton Street, he's confident they've got a readymade audience waiting for the day they're ready to start pouring.
"We've already got a lot of fans and investors in this area," he says. "We're getting a lot of emails from people that are incredibly excited. We just hope we can live up to their expectations."
The Barrel Room by Akasha is now open at 54 Norton Street, Leichhardt.