Thankfully, as one door closes, another one opens... or at least a window does, or something along those lines. Step forward the Emporium Collective; a group of individuals who have come together gradually over time through academic acquaintances, professional or friendships and have finally stumbled on a suitable premises for their vision; a locally iconic landmark to host a brewery and brewtap to fit into the local landscape. With Smithdown Road undergoing something of a renaissance of late; Craft Taproom, Defend Vinyl, Naked Lunch co-operative café/restaurant and a host of other solid independents, this is another promising addition to the road.
I was lucky enough to catch up with a few of the Emporium Collective members at the launch of their first brew in collaboration with Manchester's Runaway Brewery in Kelly's Dispensary and again a bit later with Patricia O'Callaghan who was kind enough to sit and entertain a few questions regarding their exciting project…
Hi Tricia, so, have you got a firm opening date in mind (I seem to recall a July estimate)?
“Yes we will be opening in July. We don't have a firm date unfortunately until we start work but envisage an 8-10 week build. We are hoping for a soft open on 8/9 July or 15/16th at the moment. Though we must open then as we have LIMF after party booked in following weekend and want to tap into the crowds at that!”
Other than Colin Stronge from Buxton Brewery, the guys at Blackjack and Mark from Runaway, do you have any other firm commitments from brewers to come in and get involved in producing beers for you? I am assuming that Suzie (formerly of Liverpool Organic Brewery) is the permanent fixture brewer too?
"Yeah, Suzie and Colin will be chief brewers in place for all our brews. They both are shareholders in brewery side of business. In relation to other brews we have done another collaboration with Blackjack this time; A pale ale at 4.3% abv. We don't have any others lined up at present but would love to do some with Liverpool breweries. The focus has been on festival opening so we will hopefully start some negotiations once that is over."
"In terms of stock we will be stocking white hag a brewery from Sligo. Suzie recommended them. She has brewed a coffee porter and peaches and cream ale for festival too. These will also be featured regularly. We also intended to stock cloud water, ABC, we haven't firmed up who else at minute. Waiting on prices for line installations before deciding."
What made you choose the location, given the area hasn't, in terms of recent history, been a massive rich vein to tap (the Brookhouse/Dispensary/Wilowbank excepted...) on the face of things? There's a bit of a student population at the moment, but they aren't exactly cash cows...?
“We choose the area mainly due to the building and its character, it has heart and soul.also having a good customer knowledge of the area and listening to feedback. Smithdown is up and coming and people want diversity in terms of what the area has to offer. We hope that what we offer will attract people and if we get it right it will become a destination. Also properties in town are difficult to secure.”
How big is the place going to be (how many people are you looking at accommodating)?
”With regards to capacity we hope to accommodate 120-150 people, with around 60-70 covers in front bar and 70-80 in the back bar/ cutting room. We are keeping the name in there too. This space will be very versatile with removable furniture.”
What size/specs is the brew kit that you're going to be using?
”The brew has just been upscale actually from 200l to 400l (2.5BBL) kit as we have more room for kit than first expected and also due to the response we have had with our initial brew of the IPA. In terms of spec it will be clad with stainless steel and will be visible to the public above the bar in front.”
What made you all get together and decide that you'd be doing a brewpub/micro?
”We all came together through our individual jobs and friendships really. Toby, Luke and Andy are all architects and do a lot of bar refurbs and new ventures in Liverpool, London and Leeds for their clients and wanted to tap into this for themselves, after seeing their ideas flourish for others.
Myself and Kev both have bar backgrounds for 15 plus years and the dream is always to have your own bar and do it for yourself. Getting to create the Handyman from scratch is just mind blowing. Kev knew the other boys from his university days and I obviously work for him in Kelly’s Dispensary on Smithdown Road and hold the licence there. The 3 boys also met Colin through his time at university, when I think he studied to be an architect too.
Then Suzie met the boys when she was planning a venture of her own (a micropub in Crosby, North Liverpool) that they were doing the plans for, sadly it fell through. However, it has brought us all together which is a happy ending and we all gel really well together. I think each of us brings something different to the table; many connections to breweries and local musicians between us all.
So basically our passion for beer and amazing spaces made us want to find a bar. The five of us have been looking for a premises for over two years, we came close with a few but nothing felt right until we found the Handyman. Due to the sheer volume and scale of the premises this allowed us to incorporate a brewery. This also adds another dimension to the bar and taps into the skills we have on offer within the group.”
”Sadly yes, we did have some objections but nothing too serious or insurmountable. One example was with the Council; they were cautious that deliveries are scheduled outside of peak hours to minimise traffic disruption to locals, they want us to open daytimes as well as nights because they don't want Smithdown full of shutters in daylight. The bin storage area is indoors now too, as they were concerned about large waste containers outside that would contain glass, which sadly could be used to cause damage to the public or property by vandals, this also ensures the area is kept tidy.
We’re going comply with all this and ensure all precautions are taken to reduce noise pollution so we will insulate parts of the building and must maintain the vestibule entrance and two doors. The landlord has replaced the glazing in the roof so it is efficient and reduced the glass panels above bar area to minimise sound escaping. All pretty standard stuff really.”
So have you any plans that might placate or bring locals on board or ways in which you are looking to do some 'public engagement'?
”We want the building to be as versatile as possible. That's why the two zones will really work. Midweek, the space could be used by community groups if they approach us, maybe mother and baby classes etc.
On May 6 & 7th we returned the building to its former use as a Picturedrome. We worked with Empty Spaces Cinema to show three films during the course of the weekend that are under the hammer and nail theme, Withnail & I (Saturday) sold out quickly, Wreck-it Ralph is a kids film that showed on the Sunday at 3pm with free arts and crafts session from 2pm, then we had The Hound of the Baskervilles in the evening.
We want to offer something for all ages. We are also planning further cinema events during summer and in October for Liverpool Irish festival, Halloween and Christmas. We would also like to do a carol service around Christmas and maybe even incorporate some local schools choirs. We intend to be a part of the community and hold fund raising events periodically too. The cutting room will also be available for hire for parties and functions (funerals, birthdays, christenings, baby showered, graduation etc).”
”Yes we are having an Irish beer festival in October that will run along Liverpool Irish Festival (Dates and details to be confirmed soon!). This is a growing event year on year and Smithdown has a huge Irish population as well as myself, Suzie and Colin influencing this beer festival in Handyman.
I have been in discussion with a couple of breweries who are going to come and showcase some of their beers and do a meet the brewer event. We are currently in talks with plenty other breweries in Ireland who we would like to do a tap takeover with. You’ll have to stay tuned to our media channels to see what’s coming up, but it’s very exciting!”
Do you have any current plans for say, MTB events/Food Pairing nights/Quizzes etc?
”We will have live acoustic music weekly and have some mellow tone events scheduled as well as the LIMF after party I mentioned earlier. With regards to quiz nights I can imagine we will but we haven't got down to that type of planning as yet. We have a French film night pencilled in after being approached by a member of French community who would like arrange this for fellow French people to network and get to know others in the area. We are open to all suggestions and the Smithdown Festival will be a great chance to meet the locals and potential customers and hear their ideas. We may use the back room to screen events, but will never put screens in front bar!!! The screen will be retractable and only down when in use. We will do beers from around the world events and wine & cheese tasting events in collaboration with our wine merchant.
I think we will also run a gin festival too at some point, we want the room to be used as much as possible and would like a mini market to showcase local independent produce, maybe on a monthly basis. As previously mentioned we will obviously do MTB events with Colin and Suzie and have had many enquiries from home brewers who want to come down and help already. On the food front we are hoping to keep it simple; just some rustic homemade food, things like Scouse, pies, homemade soups etc. We endeavour to keep produce local where possible.
We have so many plans but nothing written in stone yet but we will keep you in the loop as we know more so will you!”
Handyman Supermarket (and Brewery)
461 Smithdown Rd, Liverpool, L15 3JL.
Twitter: https://twitter.com/handymanbrewery and https://twitter.com/handymanSmarket