2020 Vision: Reflections On The Year That Was
It’s no surprise that our annual retrospective looks a little different this year. 2020, you came, you conquered, and you changed the way we think about everything from community to cocktails and connecting with the world around us. Here, four members of the Archie Rose team share what the past year has taught them. Turns out there’s light at the end of this tunnel.
Commissioning During COVID-19
by Harriet Leigh, Head of Hospitality
To begin to summarise 2020 requires the pouring of a large, neat whisky. At the beginning of this year at Archie Rose, we were revving up for what we thought was going to be our biggest yet. Not least because our new distillery was undergoing finishing touches before we began the process of commissioning it. “Shouldn't be too hard,” we thought, “We've done it before—how long can it take?” But compared to our original Rosebery Distillery, our Banksmeadow site is a much bigger beast. In fact it’s now the largest–and we believe the most innovative–distillery in Australia.
It's also now home to our office headquarters. We moved from Rosebery to the new site on Friday, 13 March. Not ominous at all. As I carried boxes upstairs someone brushed past me and said, "Sydney Writers’ Festival has been cancelled." I felt a lurch in my stomach. The night before I'd been at the launch event. As I carried more boxes, more great events were cancelled. In fact, the whole calendar went red as Sydney finally accepted what other parts of Asia had already known—COVID-19 was not a blip. I thought about my bar staff—I knew that restrictions would be enforced, that people would be too nervous to leave their houses, and that it was highly likely that soon we wouldn’t be allowed to go out at all. Other friends were already working remotely. If you work in the Archie Rose office you can work from home, but if you’re part of the production or bar team, that's just not physically possible.
I didn't know how much time we had. As it turned out, there were two weeks before the bar was forced to close. By that time we had formulated, designed and produced a hand sanitiser. We'd done it well enough that quite a lot of people wanted it. In fact, during April it only took us one month to move half the amount of orders we had previously shipped over the entire five-year period Archie Rose had been in operation. My bartenders reported for duty in new clothes; high vis instead of branded shirts—though quite a few of them were wearing their Archie Rose tees underneath while they filled bottles and packed boxes.
If you were one of the people who ordered hand sanitiser from us back in April, thank you so much. None of my team will ever forget the orders placed through equal parts goodwill and demand. So many people complimented us on the delicious smell—thankfully, no one drank it. What a surreal thing for the head of hospitality at a distilling company to say. Simon, our bar manager kept the cellar door open, selling Bottled Cocktails and fine spirits to our neighbours in Rosebery. He simultaneously kept the neighbourhood entertained and us connected to our community. Will, our founder, produced his most important product to date; his daughter, who was born in April, right on time. Always a very punctual man, his progeny seems to be a tiny chip off the old block.
The commissioning of the distillery ended up becoming more and more surreal. The international engineers who were supposed to get it up and running did so remotely, with distillers wandering around wearing HoloLenses; essentially sci-fi glasses that allowed engineers on the other side of the world to see what we were seeing. It's taken most of the year. Things have gone wrong, and been fixed, but finally, the distillery is producing some familiar smells. And we no longer sit in a bunker office under the stairs—we have a real office, with windows!
Personally, I'm still watching my family in the UK, in lockdown, trying to keep their heads above water, and my friends in America trying to keep sane. COVID-19 still has no vaccine, albeit a few are on the horizon, but luckily it seems as if we've waded through the worst of it here in Sydney, one day at a time.
Looking back, the main thing this experience has taught me is that if we can get through 2020 together, we can get through anything.
From Cocktails to Community, Change for the Better
by Rocky Hair, Creative Drinks Manager
It's hard not to state the obvious; 2020 has drastically changed the way we socialise, and it has had a massive impact on how we consume and experience hospitality.
I had always created Bottled Cocktails for Archie Rose, but was swung into full gear at the start of the pandemic when venues around the country shut down and I was tasked with turning what was a limited offering into a full-scale range of at-home drinks. It was tough, but in the months that followed, our now permanent range of Bottled Cocktails have only gone from strength to strength and I’m proud to be providing bar-quality cocktails to people at home and in non-traditional drinking settings. As it edges closer to Christmas, this new-found flexibility and vision means I’ve been able to create even more cocktails for our customers to share with their family and friends over the holiday season.
This year, for me, has also reaffirmed how incredibly privileged so many of us are in Australia to have access to health care and the ability to retreat into our homes with so many luxuries still at our fingertips. As difficult, taxing and life-altering as experiencing lockdown can be, I think it has forced us to have greater perspective and empathy towards people who are not regularly afforded the privilege of a safe space to call home. In some contexts, it has also provided people with a greater appreciation of community and our ability to celebrate with those closest to us. It’s something I won’t be taking for granted again.
While the future still holds great uncertainty, there is no better time than the present to enjoy what we have.
Melbourne from a Hospitality & Human Perspective
by Paul Slater, Brand Ambassador VIC & TAS
It would be a gross understatement to say we’ve faced some incredible challenges this year. Right now, perhaps the biggest of which is describing the past eight months without penning the abundance of expletives that are front of mind. It’s hard to not be frank—2020 you have been a Pandora’s box of all the wrong gratuities we never anticipated, wanted or even at times understood.
But… we are coming back! And, in some magnificent feat of fast-tracked evolutionary development, we have already mutated into a leaner, more resilient and agile beast. Melbourne’s bar and restaurant scene is world class, driven by the personalities that created and continue to nurture it. This city doesn't have iconic landmarks or crystal bays to lean on; it has passionate, talented operators who will turn a disused hole in the wall into an institution you love. They constantly remind me of the true meaning of hospitality. Witnessing these people being brought to their knees—at least twice so far—has been heartbreaking to say the least.
In March, venue owners began calculating how long they could survive financially. The cruellest blow is the cascading effect this has on an individual’s wellbeing, dealing with it in isolation and having no end in sight. We were becoming fragmented by an invisible enemy, forced to do everything online—we had to trade online, check in on our mates online. I attended my first funeral via video link in September.
I’ve spoken to renowned operators who worked tirelessly to put together takeaway offerings for a 3% return of their regular revenue. Thankfully, our attrition rate has been far leaner than that of say, New York, and out of necessity we now have an extra arrow in our quiver and the opportunity to put this into play through our return to service.
Last week I returned to one of my favourite city bars; the excitement was palpable and there was a buzz in the air unlike any I could recall for a regular Tuesday night out. The bartender explained to me that he was on his twelfth straight workday. Though fatigued and battle weary I could see his ear to ear grin through his facemask; the unbridled elation of being back in the game.
I’m happy to report that this wasn’t an isolated case; we ventured onto a neighbourhood bar whose tiny team explained how they had flipped the place from hibernation to operation in line with the “new norm” in 24 hours. Again, the vibe of both the staff and patrons was electric.
No that we’re reunited and it’s clear that the fabric of Melbourne hospitality has grown tighter and stronger. What seemed fragmented in the carnage is now visible as a collective consciousness of support, nurturing and resilience that continues to bond us.
And we are not about to slow down. Online tastings and events are still gaining momentum. Takeaway cocktails are complementing bums on seats in venues. The Covid-19 EAD team will continue to deliver meals to hospitality workers (they’ve surpassed 57,000 meals thus far). Hospitality jobs are sprouting up in abundance.
As the year draws to a close, we are cautious, determined, and capable. And we know that sooner or later we will be looking back on 2020, sharing a story, a drink and a long-awaited hug.
2020: What an Event
by Nina Schultz, Events Manager
On March 12, 2020 Archie Rose was helping launch the Sydney Writers’ Festival. Down in South Australia we were celebrating the success of our first partnership with Adelaide Festival. It was a fantastic week for the Archie Rose events team—until absolutely everything changed. Over the next few days, one by one, every event we had planned for the remainder of the year was cancelled or postponed, and our cultural partners, from Belvoir St Theatre to the Queensland Art Gallery & Gallery of Modern Art, started closing their doors. What a difference a week can make.
Like many of us across Australia, my heart broke seeing venues and businesses closing their doors and friends out of work. The events industry was among the hardest hit. The overwhelming uncertainty of the future was difficult to face and I was forced to rethink many things I had previously taken for granted. In a “normal” year, we host hundreds of events across Australia: festivals, weddings, corporate events, even gallery and theatre openings. So, what happens when all these functions are suddenly banned? You get creative, you innovate, and you don’t stop.
As a team we immediately turned our sights to the virtual realm, developing online experiences to be safely enjoyed from home. From Cocktail Masterclasses to Gin Tastings, we rolled out our online offering across Australia—and even picked up a few international guests along the way. The whole team came together as we learnt to overcome the challenges of unfamiliar technology and the need to create experiences that could fit into a small brown box.
2020 challenged us to think outside the physical and find new ways to bring people together. We were able to give teams across Australia the ability to connect, and families the opportunity to celebrate birthdays and anniversaries together. The experience inspired us to rethink how we share Archie Rose with the world. When we finally launched our first Single Malt Whisky in September, hundreds of guests joined the physical event us at the distillery via live stream, marking Archie's very first hybrid event.
The support from Archie Rose fans and our corporate friends over the past eight months has been touching, and as we look towards the new year and the re-emergence of physical events, it’s clear how much we’ve gained by welcoming creativity and innovation. It’s also a testament to how multifaceted the events industry is, and that’s something I'll never stop celebrating.
This year has made me resilient. It has made me truly appreciate the small things in life, and how important and beautiful it is to support each other and come together in difficult times. I couldn’t be prouder of what we’ve achieved and can’t wait to see what new ideas and experiences 2021 will bring. Sante!