‘We have a building we love’: Couple’s big plans to open gin distillery inside The Brookton hotel
A country couple with big dreams and a love of historical buildings have unveiled plans to open the Wheatbelt’s first gin distillery inside The Brookton, a century-old Federation-style hotel they bought four years ago and are renovating well beyond its former glory.
Formerly known as The Brookton Club Hotel, the building at the crossroads between the Great Southern and Brookton Highway stood unloved for 24 months after first being listed for sale in 2016.
Graham Stanley and Kerry Toop overlooked their terror and embraced their excitement and decided to buy the two-storey, 15-bedroom building in February 2018 — when the price had dramatically reduced to bankruptcy sale — and move to the country town.
At the time, Graham had been continuing a long local government career in Laverton and Kerry was working at Curtin University and living in the Swan Valley.
After meeting and working in separate locations, they were trying to work out careers that would allow them to be based in the same location.
In 2016, Kerry took a drive to check out the town after Graham applied for a job at the Shire of Brookton.
She stuck her head into The Brookton and The Bedford Arms Hotel, which were both advertised for sale around the same time.
In her eyes, The Brookton was advertised for too much money for the astronomical amount of work it needed.
But two years later, the property was advertised at a “basement bargain price” due to bankruptcy and they were the successful buyers.
Graham, who serendipitously didn’t get the job at the local Shire, gained employment at another local government which brought the couple a little closer together.
Kerry moved from the Swan Valley and made The Brookton her home and started the restoration journey.
The hotel and its numerous fireplaces, pressed metal ceilings, wrap-around veranda, and jarrah staircase are testament to the diverse talent of early settlers that built it more than a century ago.
During the past four years, Kerry and Graham have set about restoring the building and accommodation offering.
The first step was replacing the beds and bedding, and trying to make the rooms both comfortable and functional.
The fact every bed has an electric blanket is testament to Kerry’s mantra that “if I wouldn’t sleep in it, why would I let someone else?”.
“We made sure we had warm beds to sleep in first and foremost, and then got onto everything else,” she said.
They replaced all of the bedroom lights with chandeliers, put new carpet and curtains in, and started repainting most of the ground floor interior, and are still busy fixing the damaged brickwork throughout the building.
The next step is to start restoring the damaged press metal ceiling that was covered by a suspended ceiling.
Kerry said her joy at discovering the pressed metal masterpiece was unrivalled when she lifted a stramit ceiling panel and popped her head through to expose the original ceiling.
“It has always been very, very important to us to actually bring back the precious metal ceilings because so many people didn’t even know they existed,” Kerry said.
“They were a magical find.”
Their most recent project has involved gutting and restoring the front bar, to create a distillery.
Kerry said Brookton didn’t need or have enough patrons to support another pub — it already has The Bedford Arms pub — and she wanted to offer something different to locals and tourists alike.
They also plan to revamp the back garden area to make it child-friendly.
An architect visited the site this month, and Kerry is planning to enrol in a gin-making course.
“A distillery was something that always interested me... we hope that we can be up and running by this time next year,” she said.
“There isn’t a distillery in the Wheatbelt. So we wanted to bring something different for the community and tourists, and increase tourism into the town by offering a product that is not being offered.
“There is so much opportunity for tourism here, it is a lovely drive from the city or down through the Wheatbelt.
“Having a distillery with a nice café and good food will bring people to our town.”
Kerry and Graham want The Brookton to become a venue people are excited to visit, a quintessential pub in a small country town that draws friends from far and wide.
“We want to host weddings, receptions, celebrations, functions, craft days, cooking classes, clubs, and anything else that will promote Brookton as a destination,” Kerry has written in one of dozens of blurbs and blog posts on hotel website.
It is this goal they keep in mind during moments when Kerry wonders if they are crazy.
“When we first bought the property, we were excited but terrified about the prospect of taking on such a big project,” Kerry said.
“But we tried to keep in mind that we bought it at such a basement price.
“So if we couldn’t make it work as a business, we had a very large, 15-bedroom house to live in and enjoy.”
Kerry and Graham are the first to admit they are not the large-scale investors you would normally expect to see spending hundreds of thousands of dollars on a pub, and say while their budget is limited — their passion is not.
All of the work is funded by the accommodation bookings and the pair have found most of the furniture for the hotel through Facebook marketplace and Gumtree — meeting plenty of interesting new people and friends through doing this.
“Graham and I have experienced moments of sheer terror when we stop and think about what we have done,” Kerry said.
“However, the terror dissolves when we unlock the door and walk into the hotel.
“We own a beautiful building that we love. We are very devoted to the building and the pub and passionate about having it open.”
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