AV Case Study: Itinerant Spirits
An ambitious distillery, distillery door and cocktail bar project in regional Victoria that is set to make an international splash.
Text:/ Christopher Holder
By rights, in a world directed by rational decision-making, Itinerant Spirits should be in a tilt slab industrial estate unit, with a thrifty interior design based on old pallets, concrete floor and some painted wine barrels.
After all, Itinerant Spirits is a brand-new, start-up distiller, established by a couple of mates without corporate-deep pockets. The smart thing; the prudent thing, would be to start small, build the brand, then spread the wings from there.
Thankfully, most hospitality ventures are driven as much by the visionaries as they are by the bean counters. Itinerant Spirits whiskey bar in Ballarat is one such venture.
“It’s been an overly expensive exercise, insofar as we could have done this venue in an industrial park and started that way. But we really wanted to bring it here.”
Craig Ryan is co-founder of Itinerant Spirits, and ‘here’ is a heritage-listed goods shed next to the Ballarat train station.
Both Craig and his friend and fellow director, Brad Wilson, have links to Ballarat and wanted to bring the distilling business to the regions, closer to the provenance of the produce used to create the spirits and to create a destination for locals and visitors near and far.
BRING THE GOODS
The goods shed is a bluestone monolith with a stratospheric ceiling and monumental timber bones. One end houses the still – a highly-polished menagerie of state-of-the art equipment for producing spirits. The other end houses the hospitality offering – a mid-sized floorspace with an array of seating and lounging options, including a mezzanine.
“Brad and I fell in love with this amazing, cavernous space,” continues Craig. “We fell in love with the history as much as the space itself. We committed to building a distillery here, along with a venue. It wasn’t without its challenges, but we were determined to embrace the fabric of the building. We wanted to capitalise on the beautiful bluestone walls, the 120-year-old trusses, the eight and a half-metre pitched roof, and transform it into Australia’s best multi-spirit experience: somewhere you experience our vodka, our gin and, in time, our whiskey while sitting in comfort, taking in, what we think, is a pretty magical site of a working distillery.”
WHISKEY: STRAIGHT UP
Whiskey is the main thing. You only have to gaze through the floor-to-ceiling windows behind the bar to know that the distillery isn’t a ‘brew pub’-style gimmick – Itinerant Spirits is a distillery first. Being only a few months old, the Wayfarer whiskey is, of course, some years off – which is why the Gallivanter gin and Vansetter vodka is filling the breach at the moment – but Craig and Brad (the distiller of the partnership) are paving the way for its whiskey offering to make an immediate impact.
“We’ve not wanted to put our first whiskey batch on the market like a traded commodity. We want passionate whiskey lovers to join the Itinerant Spirits family via our Barrel Keeper program.”
Not only will a Barrel Keeper customer buy a barrel and the 120-odd bottles of whiskey that result from it, they will have the opportunity to attend masterclasses and 6-monthly tasting notes of the whiskey as it matures. It’s an involving three-year journey.
SET IN STONE
The 160-year-old bluestone structure steers the interior design of the venue. It’s vast and industrial in every regard. Craig and his design team have embraced and, in fact, celebrated the original interiors wherever they can. He and Brad met through a shared love of travel, which informs some of the design features, such as the ‘time zone’ barfront, and the suitcase straps on the seatbacks; while the oversize lighting features are beautiful but a practical choices to bring some intimacy to the volume of the space. The mezzanine is entirely freestanding (to abide by the heritage overlay) and creates a cozy whiskey den underneath, with lounges, an open fireplace and a record player. The banksia green combined with the pop of polished copper (a meaningful nod to the magnificent stills next door) lead the colourways, while the ironwood flooring is so at home, it feels like it could have been laid in the gold rush.
We wanted to capitalise on the beautiful bluestone walls, the 120-year-old trusses, the eight and a half-metre pitched roof, and transform it into Australia’s best multi-spirit experience
The venue’s music system was always a high priority for Craig and Brad. Creating a warm, sophisticated atmosphere requires a properly designed and installed audio system.
Craig engaged Guto Monteiro via a word-of-mouth recommendation to design and install the audio. Guto’s professional history is impressive — he’s designed audio systems and toured with some of the biggest names in popular music, such as Coldplay and Bryan Adams – and applies his love for great sound to tricky acoustic environments such as Itinerant Spirits.
“Craig wanted a hi-fi sound and a hi-fi coverage, but we had limitations in terms of the speaker placement. Normally, in a venue like this, you dot a number of smaller loudspeakers around the perimeter of the space. In this case, we couldn’t mount anything on the bluestone walls. So the speakers needed to be in the ceiling, but the number of speakers we would mount in the heritage roof beams were limited.
“I looked at a variety of loudspeaker options and after acoustically modelling the space we decided on the Tannoy VX8 as our main loudspeaker of choice. It’s an eight-inch coaxial design with a 90° conical dispersion. I carefully positioned those units to achieve an even coverage across the whole seating area while avoiding the service area behind the bar.”
Guto chose a Tannoy 15-inch companion subwoofer to complement the four VX8 loudspeakers, resulting in a warm, pleasing background music system without hotspots.
Elsewhere Guto selected Sonos in-ceiling and surfacemount loudspeakers: in-ceiling under the whiskey lounge and outdoor-graded surfacemount units to cover the mezzanine, selected for their wide dispersion.
All the loudspeakers are time-aligned back to the Tannoy VX8s nearest the bar to ensure a coherent audio experience throughout the venue.
It’s a delight to hear Guto talk about his audio design. He cares so much about the result and is a welcome reminder that installed audio for hospitality is an art and a science, and many so-called installers aren’t interested in either.
“Sound is not easy – it’s not easy to get a good result. That’s why you need to pick the right product for the job because there are hundreds of different speakers to choose from. But that’s my job – I’ve been doing it for a long time and I’m successful because I care about the design, the speaker placements and the coverage.
“I like the Tannoy product. It has a great reputation thanks to its studio monitors and its installation range. The quality and coverage of the Tannoy coaxial drivers provide a nicely balanced sound and an even coverage compared to the more standard ‘horn and driver’ loudspeakers that can over-emphasise the midrange in a way the Tannoys don’t.”
SETTING THE SIGHTS
It’s very early days for Itinerant Spirits and its journey of a thousand steps. Clearly you need to be looking over the horizon when you’re launching a whiskey bar without your own whiskey ready for consumption. But Craig, Brad and the team are making strides in engaging the local community as well as the broader whiskey aficionado community.
“For us to be successful we need reach audiences far and wide,” Craig explains. “We’re a Ballarat venue but we have designs on a Melbourne clientele and an interstate and international visitor market. We’re spreading the word: ‘there’s an amazing new distillery in Ballarat’. But that needs to be in conjunction with many other tourist attractions around Ballarat and Western Victoria. We talk about a ‘multi-spirit experience’, but we’re also part of a bigger multi-experience, where visitors can spend a couple of days in this region.”
4× Tannoy VX8
1× Tannoy VSX115B 15-inch subwoofer
4× Sonos Ceiling Speakers
1× Technics turntable SL-1200MK7
2× Sonos Outdoor Speakers
1× Yamaha MTX3 audio processor
1× Yamaha MCP1 Wall Controller
4× QSC GXD4 2 Channel Amplifier
1× Sonos Port