Four Pillars’ new physical space bucks trend

Located in the historic 1930s Bussell Bros building in inner-city Sydney, the new Four Pillars Laboratory is a hybrid experiential space, featuring a bar, shopfront and gin lab, complete with a working experimental still called Eileen (named after one of the co-founders’ mothers).

“It’s a lot more than just popping in and buying a bottle of gin,” Four Pillars co-founder Stu Gregor told Inside Retail.

The Surry Hills shop and lab will be open from 10am to 6pm every day, where customers can buy bottles of signature and limited-edition gin and merchandise, as well as take part in gin, distiller and cocktail master classes. Cosy and warm, Eileen’s Bar will open its doors at night and offer a menu of gin classics and modern drinks and a range of bar snacks created by chef Matt Wilkinson from Made from Gin.

“Coming out of the [pandemic] craziness right now, we understand what hospitality really means and what we miss about it – coming together at appropriate distances and the fun of getting together and enjoying others’ company,” said Gregor.

“Whether you’re fully into the gin thing or not, you can have a drink at our beautiful bar in a gorgeous space. The hospitality should be warm, the drinks should be delicious and it’s not going to be a rip-off. It’s meant to be a beautiful bar with good music, smiling faces and people should be relaxed and enjoying themselves.”

Launched seven years ago, Four Pillars is based in the heart of the Yarra Valley, where it also runs another bar and hospitality space. According to Gregor, the Yarra Valley – the “brand’s spiritual home” – will continue to be where the gin is produced and Surry Hills will be where the cocktails are crafted.

Unfortunately, since the coronavirus outbreak, Four Pillars’ on-premise, export and global travel retail businesses “absolutely tanked”, said Gregor.

“One of the fastest growing markets for us was global travel retail and we were doing great business at Brisbane, Sydney and Melbourne airports and even Singapore and Hong Kong. That came to a crashing halt,” he explained.

“The sooner that we can get flying the better. It’s not just the airlines that care about it, it’s also heaps of the brands and hospitality businesses that rely heavily on the traffic that goes through airports.”

Since the pandemic, many breweries and distilleries like Four Pillars began producing hand sanitiser as well as focusing on their direct-to-consumer channels, particularly online.

According to Gregor, expanding the direct-to-consumer side of the business while balancing and wholesale is “a fine balancing act”.

“The lab in Surry Hills is not a competitor to Dan Murphy’s. It’s about getting more people to love Four Pillars. We know they might come and buy something from our store and have a great experience, but day-to-day, they’ll shop at BWS or Liquorland. They won’t keep schlepping into Surry Hills if their local bottle-o is in [western Sydney suburb] Penrith,” he explained.

“The one thing we have to do is increase our footprint across retail in Australia, so anyone can go to Toowoomba or Townsville or Timbuktu and find our gin there. I hate going to a retailer and you can’t buy Four Pillars – it kills me.”

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