09/09/2016 - 13:48

No longer driven to drink in Margs

09/09/2016 - 13:48

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Tourists have been given more incentive to hang up the car keys and stay in town when visiting Margaret River. 

No longer driven to drink in Margs

Tourists have been given more incentive to hang up the car keys and stay in town when visiting Margaret River. 

One of the first, and most challenging, decisions any visitors to the South West have to make is deciding who’s going to be the designated driver on a day trip spent sampling the region’s wineries, breweries or distilleries.

But a trio of new operations could end that argument for travellers to Margaret River, with all of the attractions being established within walking distance of the town.

The first to open was Margaret River Distilling Company, an expansion of the Great Southern Distilling Company, on the corner of Carters and Maxwell roads.

Founder Cameron Syme said the fact that the distillery was just a short walk from the town centre had been a hit among locals and tourists since the facility opened in November last year.

“We’ve had a lot of people tell us we had brought back some of the old Margaret River,” Mr Syme told Business News.

“From that point of view, we took a really earthy approach to Margaret River, and being close to the centre of town was a key issue for us because the Margaret River region extends over a large area, but the town is actually a very small place.

“We wanted to be really close to the epicentre of it so we could use the name properly.”

Mr Syme said a large focus when developing the 200-seat tavern and distillery was to make sure it was true to the feel of Margaret River.

“We’ve gone understated rather than overstated, because if I think of the old surfing roots of Margaret River and the old wineries of Margaret River, it’s about the quality of the produce, not just the quality of the building,” he said.

“Margaret River is a world-renowned destination and it’s a magical place, there is something really magic about it; and in terms of distilleries, there is something magic about what we do, so it was a good synergy.”

While Great Southern Distilling is known for its award-winning Limeburners whisky, Mr Syme said the Margaret River facility would specialise in gin and vodka, with its flagship offering a ‘giniversity’, where punters can distil their own bottle of gin.

“It’s a much different experiential opportunity,” he said.

“The class is about three to four hours and you get a bottle of gin that you’ve distilled yourself at the end of it.”

The distillery opening was followed in December by the establishment of Brewhouse Margaret River, a craft brewery aimed at pleasing locals as much as visitors to the town.

Brewhouse head brewer Andrew Dykstra said he and two other local families initially had planned to establish the brewery near Yallingup, but an opportunity to set up in Margaret River was too good to pass up.

“Being in town is a bit more of a sustainable location; people can walk to the venue, we have short-stay chalets down the road, people arrive on bikes so we’re starting to embrace the mountain bike theme as well,” Mr Dykstra said.

“I’ll be putting in an outdoor shower and bike racks as well; there are a lot of trails nearby so we are trying to cater for people who will feel relaxed, they have space to park their bikes, have a shower and settle in for the afternoon.”

Mr Dykstra, who said he had been making beer for about 20 years, albeit on a much smaller scale, said he was careful when establishing the brewery that it reflected the casual atmosphere of Margaret River.

“With the building design, we tried to mimic the Margaret River vernacular, with old rough and worn timbers around the outside, and I’ve got a surfboard collection of about 60 boards, so I have a few of them on display around the brewery as well,” Mr Dykstra said.

“A lot of the wineries here provide for the upper end of the market, but we provide a service that’s a bit more relaxed and we give people good value for money.”

Even closer to the centre of town, Settlers Tavern owner and long-time Margaret River local, Preston House, is planning a $3 million expansion of the Margaret River Hotel.

Mr House bought the hotel, which was built in 1936 and forms a prominent landmark on Bussell Highway, in 2005, with a view of acquiring 35 strata-titled units on an adjoining block.

However, that plan has not yet come to fruition, with a number of unit owners unwilling to sell.

“I’ve been trying to do a deal with the strata owners for a while now but it wasn’t going anywhere, but a vacant block came up alongside it, so we’ll put 32 brand new hotel units on that,” Mr House told Business News.

“The deal I offered the strata owners was to swap an old one for a new one, so I could get control of the other site, flatten that and rebuild again, but that’s another story.

“It looks like a couple guys don’t want to shift at all.”

Mr House contracted Perth-based architectural practice Whitehaus to design the extension, which will comprise 32 new rooms.

He said he expected the expanded hotel to provide an alternative for travellers keen to safely sample Margaret River Region wine, beer, spirits and food.

“There are lots of chalets and things around Margaret River, which is all nice if you are down with the kids and you want to be out on the farm and things like that,” Mr House said.

“But a lot of visitors come down, drink, go to wineries etcetera, and the last thing they need to be doing is drink driving.

“So they need to stay in town so they can walk to restaurants and things like that.”

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