After a 15-month development journey, Billycart Brewing Co. has opened in the community of Atherton in North Queensland.
Founded by husband and wife Matt Bradford and Margaret Barker, the idea for a brewery first occurred when both experienced a shift in their careers.
“I’m a scientist and I was a plant ecologist with the CSIRO until last year so I have a science background,” Bradford said.
“We sort of reached a point in our careers, where things were coming to an end and it was time for a change.”
“It’s been a slow burn up until now,” Barker said.
“We actually came to a point where CSIRO closed in Atherton and thought, ‘Well, now’s the opportunity for us to just follow that career path’.”
Bradford started homebrewing over 20 years ago, which inspired him to open a brewery business.
“I fell into homebrewing and I got Queensland and Australian champion in 2016. I’m also a trained international beer judge under the Beer Judge Certification Program,” he said.
“Margaret and I travelled the world together visiting breweries and have a passion for good, fresh beer.”
The venue itself is a brewery with a taproom attached to it, which was converted from an auto electrician shed. While there isn’t a dedicated kitchen, there are food trucks within the local area that the business relies on.
“There’s about 10,000 people in Atherton. So it’s a farm and an industrial centre and there are a lot of sheds around that. But there’s not many for lease at the moment,” Bradford said.
“We just stumbled across this through talking to locals and basically, it’s just a big shed next to a creek with a lovely bit of rain forest and water on the main road and it just ticked all the boxes.”
The 15-month process to opening fared smoothly according to Barker, with local council providing support.
“Council has been very supportive. It does take at least a year to get going. It took us probably 15 months all up to start and finish. So we really didn’t have too many hurdles to get over,” she said.
“We worked with Spark Breweries and Distilleries in Melbourne and they designed our equipment. It was made in China and then delivered to us here. That was also a process.”
Meanwhile, the pandemic also presented some challenges, especially with trade staff shortages.
“Access to trade people was a thing with the pandemic,” Barker said.
“Fortunately, we had a project manager that we knew well, so he could access those tradespeople.”
While opening a brewery is no easy feat, for Bradford and Barker it was an good experience despite the challenges.
“We were warned about how difficult and stressful it was, but it was enjoyable for us,” Bradford said.
“Probably one thing is just the waiting and knowing that you won’t open for 15 months and you’re not going to have any cash flow.”
Bradford also offered advice for others wanting to open breweries.
“Don’t skimp in terms of the quality of your equipment, your accessories, like keg washers and TIP units. Get top quality so everything runs smoothly.”
The local community
With Bradford taking on the role of head brewer, Billycart has released various beers as part of its launch including a few lagers, a Pilsner, an XPA, and various seasonal beers.
“We thought about this and because we’ve lived up here all our lives we know our people drink but we also know what we want people to drink,” he said.
Billycart Brewing officially opened at the end of April, with the first few weeks overrun with locals.
“It was slightly unexpected but we did really well,” Bradford said.
“It’s great to see families here and it’s a real family atmosphere. That’s how we advertise it as a place for families and people to meet and for the locals to want to come down and spend time here.”
The business recognises North Queensland as a growing area for the craft beer industry, and hopes to contribute to spreading recognition.
“There’s a growing craft scene up here in North Queensland and they’re all making really good beer,” Bradford said.
“We’re working together to get the industry really going and get some trails going. So it’s quite a scene at the moment.”
Billycart Brewing is open Thursday to Sunday at 65 Tolga Rd, Atherton QLD 4883.
Brewery openings are presented by Spark Breweries and Distilleries, the finest in-venue and production brewing systems available, with local design and support.