Michael Earp's venture into the world of distilling began simply enough.
"I was doing some reading one night and suddenly thought, 'Wow, I wonder how much is actually involved in the distillation and learning how to do it'," Earp tells Weekender.
"I wanted to look at doing something I can work at over the next 10, 20 years and have a bit of fun, too."
Earp is joint managing director of Newcastle tile company Earp Bros (the family has operated businesses in Newcastle since 1883) with his brother Richard. He devoted time researching the distilling industry before putting a proposition to Richard.
They had plenty of space at their tile warehouse in Carrington, so how about setting up a distillery?
"He just went 'That's a no-brainer. I'm in'," Earp says.
A little over two years later, Earp Distilling Co. opened its doors in Carrington last weekend.
The distillery is a passion project for Earp, who oversees the distilling process with Cameron Burns. His vision is to create a place that allows spirit enthusiasts the opportunity to not only try the product, but to also understand the science behind it and the process.
"Part of what we are trying to do here is make sure that we're giving a lot of transparency," Earp says.
"The distilling industry is a bit like brewing, it's growing quite rapidly. There's a lot of things that people want to learn about it, how things are made and that sort of thing."
The warehouse space has been transformed to accommodate a sophisticated bar, which is designed for tastings and drinks that can be enjoyed over a simple tapas-style menu offering meats, cheese, olives and sourdough.
Open daily, the bar offers cocktails, including a seasonal range, as well as spirits and locally-produced beer and wine.
And there is also the distillery's star attraction: a 5000-litre still (nicknamed "Zeus") which was imported from The Netherlands. The impressive iStill machine is on full display through a large viewing window that connects the bar area to the distilling room.
It is capable of creating "pretty much any spirit", according to Earp, and is one of the largest capacity stills in Australia.
"When people come in and the machine is running, they will see all of the liquid refluxing and everything happening in there. It's a lot more creative," Earp says.
"We do a lot of the product development on a very small scale, on a mini version of this which is six litres. It allows us to replicate and upscale our gins and we are happy to say that we came up with our dry gin and scaled it from six litres to 5000 litres. It was exactly as we had hoped."
Earp says the machine has revolutionised the distilling process, moving away from the traditional copper still method to embrace a more innovative approach.
"The distilling industry is a little bit worried about this technology because they are seeing it as being a bit Willy Wonka, it's a bit out there," Earp says.
"Someone has suggested it's taking the craft out of the industry, but it's not the case at all because we still do all of the flavour profiling and all of the craft part on the small [six litre] still. But, we can replicate it. This is 90 per cent more efficient than a traditional copper still. That ties back in with the tiling business because we are the only green certified tile supplier in Australia
"We are conscious of the environment and sustainability, and we are trying to carry that through to what we are doing here as well."
As well as the bar and a private function room, Earp Distilling Co. will offer spirit making classes. There are eight miniature six-litre stills in the "classroom" (compact versions of the iStill) where attendees will be paired in groups of two at each machine.
The three-hour class will run through the history of distilling and allow participants to use their choice of botanicals to create a gin to bottle and take home (flavoured vodka or absinthe-making classes will also be available by request).
"Again, I think it's part of that transparency and learning," says Earp, who completed distilling courses in Tasmania.
"People are interested and becoming a lot more discerning about what they're eating and drinking, so we are making it more transparent."
References to the family's tile business are tied in throughout the building - and the bottles. The tiles used in the space are Earp Bros products, from the oversized slate on the walls in the distilling room to the impressive mosaic on the exterior at the entrance of the building.
And rather than glass, the bottles are ceramic.
"We went with ceramic to reflect the Earp family history," Earp explains.
"Early on, we were actually merchants in coal and then we moved into other things, and there was one point there where we were actually importing rum all under the Earp name. So it's a bit of a throwback to that and the fact the original rum bottles were actually ceramic."
Gin, vodka, absinthe and limoncello are currently available to purchase in 500ml bottles: No.8 Dry Gin; Portside Gin; Premium Vodka; Absinthe Minded; and Summertime Limoncello. Down the track, Earp Distilling Co. will also have barrel-aged rum and whisky.
Michael's son Josh (sixth generation in the Earp family), who is handling marketing for the company, says they are pushing the venue as a destination for visitors to Newcastle.
"The cruise terminal is only 150 metres away from us, so we are hoping that people can come to the bar and distillery, and have that experience rather than spending half a day travelling back and forth to the vineyards," Josh says.
"We are quite confident we have something that's pretty special," Michael adds.