MEET TASMANIA'S PRODIGAL SON - NIALL MAURICI
One of the best things about being based in Hobart is that we are surrounded by a rich industry of intensely passionate and focussed individuals who love to create and innovate. It’s off the back of these kinds of people that Hobart has become such a desired destination for food, booze and culture in recent years.
Bar mentor Niall Maurici is one of these individuals; a walking encyclopaedia, a hard working bartender and generally a top character. We caught up with Niall at The Winston for a few beers and a chat about the joys and challenges of working with local Tasmanian spirits, or at least the view from his end.
“Let’s be brutally honest, hospitality is not very glamorous. It’s a lot of hard work, you don’t make any money, and you’re knee deep in shit. But if you are true to your concepts down here and you stick it out, there is a lot of reward you get from it.”
Niall's primary focus is on the intimate Robbie Brown’s bar in Hobart's satellite beachside destination Kingston Beach. This is Australia's southernmost cocktail bar worth it's salt to be sure, but this is the dedication that he is talking about, manifest in his own efforts at the small, 30 seater beachside venue, that boasts proximity to some of the country's foremost distilleries and agricultural districts.
Along with great support from owners Mark and Brett Sawford, continues to create an atmosphere of quality spirits and service that really gives back to the residents of one of the fastest-growing municipalities in Tasmania. Robbie Brown’s took out the Australian Bartender award for the best bar in Tasmania for 2016, which was a huge vindication for their immense effort: “The reason Tasmania is so known on an international scale is the brands and the produce; often the venues get overlooked. Now people are coming to see these products at their source, and realising what was here the whole time.”
In a familiar origin story for food and drink cultural pioneers, Niall cut his teeth in the industry as a glassy in a pub. He found in London a mentor, acting as the catalyst which turned our bright-eyed glassy into a booze fanatic, and eventually, a career-minded hospitality pro. His knowledge of the booze industry is now vast. He’s got a lot of love for fun and funky distillers, and gets to funnel this passion through moonlighting as the brand representative for Charles Oates; the new organic spirit from the makers of Willie Smith’s cider. Using a Charentais alembic still and some delicious local cider apples, the crew from William Smith & Sons are giving the time honoured tradition of producing Calvados a go in this farm-to-bottle project - “In terms of longevity and sustainability, booze is where it’s at. That’s why Willie Smiths, Charles Oates and all those other small businesses are so exciting, because it’s a risk, but they’re fully committed to it”.
Other innovators who inspire our prodigal son are “the crazy uncle” Peter Bignall. His eyes light up describing the methods of the definitively unique distiller at Belgrove. He also finds inspiration in the creative uses of by-products being employed by Ryan at Hartshorn Distillery.
“That’s the best thing about the Tassie industry, is that we’re not bound to age statements, regular rules, and international demand dictating sales, so you can create some really interesting stuff; you can find a barrel and say ‘it’s time that one saw the light of day’. We’re so blessed to be able to do that”
We’re lucky to have someone like Niall here who is so dedicated and involved in the scene. Keep your eyes on the lad because his contribution is far from over!
“My philosophy [concerning spirits] is; judge how something tastes in a glass, but it’s also a story; the mystique around a product, that’s what we have in spades here. That’s why I keep doing it, that’s why I haven’t gone to Melbourne or Sydney, you have immediate access to the people that make the booze, if you want to go and be part of the process, you can go and be part of the process, it’s a really dynamic industry”
With ever more variety in produce coming from the southern part of Tasmania, we're excited to see just what gets distilled and what flavours we get to work within the future. Most exciting will be to see just how craftsmen like Niall turn these local spirits into idiosyncratic cocktails that really celebrate the seasonality of this southern island we call home.