Ballistic Beer are set to add a further two brewpubs to their arsenal, with the Brisbane-based brewery announcing the acquisition of both The Whitsunday Island Brewing Company in Airlie Beach and Bargara Brewing in Bundaberg.
The first of the two was scheduled to open last year just as COVID caused venues to close across the country and will now become Ballistic Whitsundays, while Bargara Brewing – which has been operating on the Queensland coast since 2014 – will change its name to Ballistic Bargara.
The twin purchases means there will be five Ballistic venues spread across their home state, including their original home in Salisbury, a brewpub in Springfield and the Ballistic Alehouse & Kitchen in West End. Ballistic’s CEO and founder, David Kitchen told The Crafty Pint the brewery team’s plans for homes further north has been in the works for some time.
“We had started work on a lot of strategic reassessment and consideration at the beginning of last year,” he says.
“Our aim last year was to ultimately become Queensland’s number one brewery. We can’t hope to be that if we’re just going to be sitting in the bottom right-hand corner of the state and saying, ‘We’re the beer for the whole of Queensland.' That’s just not right.”
For Ballistic, having new outlets in the gateway to the Whitsunday Islands and in Bundaberg provides them with dual locations from which to expand their brand in two popular tourist destinations, as well as the opportunity to provide communities with a wider choice of craft beer in places where options remain relatively limited. There was also the fact both breweries became available: Whitsunday Island Brewing’s owner, Dan McLeod, was looking to sell the space and equipment; Bargara’s Jack Milbank was looking to pursue other business opportunities.
“These two venues became available,” David says. “And we thought we could build that whole strategy of becoming a much wider Queensland brand by taking over those two venues.”
Ballistic is one of a number of Australian craft producers to have received investment from the craft beer accelerator Mighty Craft, a group that runs its own venues, including Mighty Moonee Ponds and The Mighty Hunter Valley, but in this case David says the brewpubs are very much Ballistic projects. What's more, he says the plan is to continue to work closely with the staff in Bundaberg, including Jack and Jacinta Milbank, and to see the brewpubs continue to be part of their local communities.
“We’re retaining all the staff at Bargara," he says. "There were no staff at Airlie Beach but Dan [McLeod] remains informally involved; he’s a very keen ambassador for us up there at the moment.”
The twin purchases also increases Ballistic's production capacity, with David saying both sites are capable of brewing enough to service their bars and supply beer in their backyards. Ballistic Bargara will also continue to brew established Bargara brands like Thirsty Turtle Lager and Rusty Roo Red Ale. However, David says they have no plans to create a wide range of drinks brands in the manner of the Fermentum Group, which includes Stone & Wood, Fixation, Two Birds and others, or Good Drinks, the umbrella banner for the likes of Gage Roads, Matso's and Atomic Beer Project.
“We are very confident in our brand and what we offer so we’re very keen to project Ballistic,” he says.
Ballistic’s acquisitions come just a few weeks after Fermentum bought Two Birds and follows last year’s announcement that another ambitious Queensland indie, Black Hops, had purchased Brisbane’s Semi-Pro Brewing, turning it into Black Hops Brisbane.
David expects we may see further consolidation between smaller breweries and more breweries focusing on running multiple venues of their own; he says there are clear benefits for Ballistic in this approach, from guaranteeing consistent production to marketing your beer and telling your story.
“I think the likelihood of CUB and [Lion] buying a significant number of new breweries in the next couple of years is pretty damn slim,” he says.
“I don’t see that that’s where people are going to be able to turn to. But I think what we will see is some more consolidation and some projection of breweries through venues.”
As for their future plans and whether or not a Ballistic brewpub south of the Tweed River is part of them, David says they’re always on the lookout. That said, after surviving the challenges of the past year, relaunching their core range in 2020, and running a major nationwide campaign in support of their flagship Hawaiian Haze, the team has other ideas on their mind.
“We all just pretty much need a holiday," he says, "but there are other venues we’ve got our eye on.”