One Year On… Ballistic Whitsundays

After acquiring the Whitsunday Island Brewing Company last year, Ballistic Beer Co’s Airlie Beach brewery has faced some challenges in its first year of operation.

While it’s been an overall positive experience for the business, the challenges have been difficult, Ballistic CEO David Kitchen told Brews News.

“We opened it and it was certainly good to start off with but I think, probably with every other brewery, the beginning of the year has been a challenge,” he explained.

“Overall, we’re very happy that we are up there and we’re happy to be part of the Whitsunday community and operating.”

Ballistic, which is part of Mighty Craft’s portfolio, currently has five venues to its name and each has posed a different challenge.

“Whitsundays is a little bit more like the Salisbury taproom as it does have a brewery in there but it doesn’t have a kitchen,” he said.

“When we opened up, we thought ‘that’s not going to be a problem, we’ll just get food trucks in like everyone does’ – but there are only one or two food trucks in Airlie Beach.

“We have an on site permanent food truck which seems to be working well. But not having a kitchen means that it’s a very different proposition to other venues with kitchens.”

Since the pandemic, many Far North Queensland businesses, including Sauce Brewing Co in Cairns, have struggled with the lack of tourism.

“It’s a town that’s affected by the level of tourism, and that then affects everything else,” Kitchen explained.

“The Omicron wave seems to have had a much greater effect on us than the previous two years of COVID.

“Most people went home, drank beer and sales continued whereas at the beginning of this year, that tended to drop off a little bit. People weren’t going out and partying while they were stuck at home, so sales didn’t make quite the same levels as they had previously.”

While being located in a region so heavily reliant on tourism created a domino effect for other challenges, including a hospitality staff shortage.

“Hospitality is probably the biggest part of this. There’s a massive shortage of hospitality staff.

“There are some of the really big venues out there offering employment packages that are very significant. So they’ll cover flights, accommodation, guaranteed hours, and a whole lot just to get people to come to Airlie Beach, let alone work for them.”

Ballistic’s growth across multiple venues in different parts of the state has also led to marketing and branding challenges, which other breweries looking to expand may also face.

Listen to the full Beer is a Conversation with Ballistic chief operating officer Lauren Jack.

Importance of branding

While having clear branding is an important factor across all aspects of a business, it’s especially critical for breweries looking to expand with multiple venues.

For Ballistic across its five venues, Kitchen said it was intentional to choose a clear name that wouldn’t limit any of its potential expansions.

“It’s sort of basic branding 101 in that it’s not limited in any way. What we were looking at was a really good name for a brewery and I think we struck it,” he said.

“One of the only requirements, besides coming up with a really great name, was that it had to be a name you could say over a really noisy bar and the bartender could still hear you.

“Ballistic is a very easy word to say loudly and get the name across. Whereas some of the other brands, they’re a bit softer, a little bit harder to project.

“I think it’s worked as well because it really is a tip of the hat to the history of the community Ballistic is set up in.”

Last year, in one of the company’s expansion efforts, Ballistic launched a range of Reef Beers at the Whitsunday venue to be sold exclusively in regional Queensland and raise money for local Airlie Beach charity, Eco Barge Clean Seas (EBCS).

“Regional communities are the beating heart of Queensland and we know that if we want to become Queensland’s favourite craft beer, we need to expand beyond Brisbane and support causes that are important to locals, like protecting the Reef,” Kitchen said in a media release.

While the Ballistic Whitsundays venue has faced its share of challenges, Kitchen is excited for the future of the venue.

“We will continue to upscale the venue. There’s a couple of learnings we’ve had, especially with how hot and muggy it gets up there. We’re going to get windows onto the front of the venue. We’ll have to put in some extra air conditioning,” he explained.

“Right now, it’s also about getting people excited about going back into venues especially in the Whitsundays, which is only just getting its mojo back.

“We want to be the local brewery, the local taphouse, the one that everyone in Airlie Beach is proud of. So we’ve got to keep working with the local community.”

Back to Lessons Learned