Johnathan Hepner & Clint Elvin, Co-Founders of Bucket Boys


Marrickville is a hotspot for craft beer in Sydney. So why has it taken until 2016 for it to get a specialist bottle shop?

Co-founders Johnathan Hepner and Clint Elvin talk about their inspiration, passion and the journey to launch Bucket Boys.

Johnathan and Clint - Bucket Boys

Johnathan Hepner (L) and Clint Elvin (R)

Opening any business requires a leap of faith but it’s clear from speaking to Clint and Johnathan that, as well as faith, this has taken time, money, hard work and a lot of passion.

Clint: I’m quietly confident.

Johnathan: Well if we weren’t we wouldn’t have opened the business. Why open a business if you’re not confident it’s going to work?

C: That’s why we’ve invested our life into this.

J: And all of our money.

C: We have to make it work otherwise we’ll have to flee.

J: Don’t say that.

The Inspiration Behind Bucket Boys

“Well the idea all started at Batch really, one afternoon,” says Clint.

“I used to run the tasting room there,” says Johnathan, taking up the story, “and Clint used to come in on his way to work and say ‘hi’. And so we got chatting one day about how we wanted to do something different and I kind of pitched him an idea about a bottle shop in Marrickville.”

While the idea might sound obvious – opening a bottle shop in a suburb that loves craft beer but is severely lacking in places to buy it – Johnathan and Clint decided to take the high road rather than the low.

Namely, they wanted to sell their own beer. On tap.

“We both sort of came in with ideas and that was an idea that we both had,” says Clint.

How Hip-Hop Relates To Selling Beer

Diversifying from the mainstream concept of a bottle shop had its origins in an unexpected place.

“I come from the music industry,” says Johnathan, “and in the music industry you’re more successful if you’re doing different things.

“For example, if you’re Jay Z, you don’t just sing songs. You’re not just a rapper, you own your own clothing line, you own your own record label, you manage artists, you do all kinds of different things, right?”

With his background and this approach to business, Johnathan sees what they do as more than running a bottle shop.

“No, we’re a beer company. So, we like beer. We like making it, we like selling it, we like finding it, we like doing all the different things. I don’t know why we’re the only ones who have thought of it.”

'We’re a beer company. So, we like beer. We like making it, we like selling it, we like finding it...' Click To Tweet

The ideal for Johnathan and Clint is a bottle shop where punters can drink on premise. But thanks to some archaic New South Wales licensing laws, that’s not currently possible. Instead, the plan is to apply for a separate small bar licence for the space above the shop.

A Road Less Travelled

It’s so often the variety in a person’s experience that leads to original and exciting ideas.

Johnathan has this variety of experience, having worked in sport, retail and music. What led the man from Oklahoma to Australia was a break in the American football season, which he was coaching in Austria, of all places – really!

Meeting his would-be wife while backpacking led him to Sydney and eventually to managing the Lord Raglan and the Batch Brewing bar.

With no real interest in beer when he moved to Sydney, Johnathan soon got swept up in the growing scene and when Young Henrys opened up in nearby Newtown, that sealed the deal.

Clint, meanwhile, previously worked at Gasoline Pony in Marrickville and also runs the Sydney edition of the Mikkeller Running Club. Discovering the Danish gypsy brewer was a defining point in his craft beer journey.

Bucket Boys Beers

As for the Bucket Boys beers? Well, they’re a collaborative effort.

“None of us wants to sit around for six hours doing boils and cleaning out kettles and all that shit,” says Johnathan. “So we have a mate, Jay, who is an awesome brewer.

“He was like ‘I’ll help you make a beer for GABS’, and it kind of turned into a conversation of ‘why don’t you just help us make beer full stop?’”

With another mate, Ben, in the mix, the four collaborate on producing beer for Bucket Boys on their own system at Willie The Boatman.

“We ended up buying our own system because we couldn’t find anywhere that could brew us small enough batches for just the shop – 4 kegs.”

As for how all these pieces fit together, both Johnathan and Clint concede they’re figuring it all out as they go along, but they know what they want it to be.

“We have a vision,” says Johnathan. “How we get there, sometimes we disagree on, but the end goal we 100% agree on, from the very beginning.”

'We have a vision. How we get there, sometimes we disagree on, but the end goal we 100% agree on...' Click To Tweet

An Organic Part Of The Marrickville Community

Marrickville has a tight-knit community, and especially so in the craft beer industry which is now so prominent in the suburb.

“We’re just an extension of that because we’re part of it already,” says Clint. “Just like Grifter decided to open up here or BlackFont, they were already a part of it.”

Johnathan is pragmatic in rationalising their place in the community. “I think we’re just filling a need. The need is a bottle shop. There are no bottle shops, right? So that was the original talk.”

Explosion Of Craft Beer In Marrickville

It’s the prolific growth of craft beer in Marrickville that has opened up the need for something like Bucket Boys.

“So Marrickville has more breweries per capita than any other place in Australia,” says Johnathan. “It’s like, how could you have this concentrated suburb of the most amazing breweries and this whole community of beer and not have a hub where everyone can get it?

“That’s the thing we get told more than anything, it’s like, ‘I can’t believe no one’s thought of this yet’. I’m sure they have, they just haven’t got this far. It’s easy to think about it but this is tough.

“We don’t have workers. We pay a few people to do things we can’t,” says Johnathan, motioning towards the sign painter who’s working silently and diligently as we chat. “It’s not like we have a crew. It’s all us.”

It’s this growth in craft beer and in Marrickville as a whole that makes the boys confident in their decision. “I just feel like this is going to go off here,” says Johnathan. “I have this feeling that as soon as we open the doors it’s going to go really well.”

On the subject of the community being a driving force for Bucket Boys, Clint says: “The locals around here have been our biggest supporters from the start. They’re constantly asking me when I walk down the street, ‘when are you opening?’.”

Local Beer For Local People

One aim of any specialist bottle shop is to provide local beer to local people. It’s no surprise then that this was an important point for Clint and Johnathan.

“The first door in the fridge here is always going to be just Inner West beer,” says Johnathan. “We want people who come in to know they can always get local stuff.

“Our taps will always have one of our beers and an Inner West beer and we’ll play around with the other two. And we’ve got some pretty interesting ideas about how to engage everybody.”

Talking to Clint and Johnathan, you soon learn that, while community matters to them, there’s pragmatic reasoning behind many of their decisions.

“It’s not like we’re doing independent or local stuff just because we want people to be really enthused by that stuff,” adds Clint. “It’s also that it’s better.”

It’s not like we’re doing local stuff just because we want people to be really enthused... It’s also better. Click To Tweet

“We keep saying drink fresh, drink local, but you’ve got to actually back it up by stocking it. It’s pretty easy here.”

This approach extends to the choice of wine and spirits at Bucket Boys, with a focus on independent Australian makers.

But Where’s The Toohey’s New?

A question that crosses the mind of anyone opening a craft bottle shop is whether to stock large brands.

“We’ve debated it from the beginning,” says Johnathan.

And it’s clearly been a debate. Speaking to Johnathan, he tos-and-fros between wanting to serve the desires of locals and staying true to his passion.

“It’s just not our thing and we don’t really have a passion for it. I don’t have a passion to try to sell it.

“I reckon there’s going to be a big portion of our immediate clients who are going to be locals and they’re going to come in looking for something in particular because we’re a bottle shop and we’re not going to have it. So that first interaction is going to make the difference between how we do.

“With the locals, if we can diplomatically convince them that they can try something that’s independently made or that’s a bit different but it may taste like what you want and then get them on that, then that’s our job.”

Passion And Responsibility

So is convincing people to give good, local beer a crack a responsibility for the boys or is it a passion?

“I think it’s both,” says Clint. “I guess it’s more of a passion.”

Johnathan weighs in: “Our challenge as a business to make sure they’re satisfied… If they’re not happy then that’s going to be on us.”

“But the thing is we knew that,” says Clint, “and we know that we can provide something for them and keep them happy regardless of what they want. We’ll find something for them. With the range, then if we couldn’t then we’re doing something wrong.”

“You’d think so,” says Johnathan.

Bucket Boys opens at 300 Illawarra Road, Marrickville in late 2016. They can be found online at www.bucketboys.com.au.