Season 1, Episode 18

Bargara Brewing Company

Join Benjamin Starr as he chats with Jack Milbank who shares his journey from Zimbabwe to Bundaberg and how; by combining his knowledge of chemistry and microbiology he was able to start the Bargara Brewing Company.

Hosts & Guests

Benjamin Starr

Jack Milbank

Read the transcript

rBen: Well today we’ve ended up in a fabulous place called the Bargara Brewing Company and it was established in twenty fourteen believe it or not and brewing is big up here in the far north Queensland area of Bundaberg and I must say we’ve got a man who is very, very passionate about what he does Jack Milbank joins me.  Jack, thanks very much for having us here you are the founder and CEO of Bargara Brewing Company and I’d like to know something about this facility tell me a little bit about it!

Jack: Ah I think what we are feeding is people’s desire for experimentation and they, they, just got very bored with a pale lager that you know when the whole beer industry consolidated through the seventies, eighties, nineties and everybody to just got fed one style of beer.  The time had to come when people started demanding something a little more interesting and so, we did just that. By literally producing pale ales and then from pale ales then came the IPA’s than the XPA’s.     Then branching out to more interesting beers, like you know, what we’ve Irish reds, we’ve got we then played around with our extra pale ale and used a gluten amylase reduction enzyme on to strip all the gluten out, so we could service the celiac market or the gluten free trends.

Ben: So, you really have to be a scientist to understand this! I mean I know you can go buy a home brewing kit and people really have major explosions under the house because they don’t know what they’re doing, but you’re talking like all the scientific stuff, how did you learn to do all this stuff? 

Jack:  Well I, I still don’t know how to do it all, I’ve never done any home brewing and I’m an agronomist. So, which is a plant and soil scientist. So, we, out other business we operate is a soil testing laboratory and a microbiology lab.  So, you learn another lot about different strains of bacteria,   fungi, yeast.  And then I know a lot about working with growers in different varietal characteristics of crops.  So, I know what different things we can use, and then that’s I suppose the proliferation of fruit beers recently, is perfect!  Because that’s what we specialise in, is servicing the horticulture industry. So, it’s just combining and having a bit of a knowledge of the flavour profiles what ingredients are going to work well together and then in producing a premium quality product of a reasonable scale, so we are doing four or five pallets a week that we’re able to produce.  And, you know just servicing Queensland wide and Dan Murphy’s and BWS.   And then targeted export markets. So, we will do, just one mixed shipping pallet of a hundred, hundred and five cases but, but we will just keep that regular.  So instead of huge batches of blended product we are doing single batch production runs.  So, it’s always comes of fresh gets packaged and goes straight out the door.  So, we’re not a hanging on to a lot of inventory it’s always fresh getting to consumers. 

Ben: So, people would go into a pub, they normally would buy what they’ve been served by the industry itself and it’s probably the same recipe that they’ve used for the last one hundred years!  Was it, what was it, ever inventive to begin with, or was it always just stock standard?   

Jack: I think this is the fantastic thing that’s happened, with this resurgence of the craft brewing industry. Is that we’ve re introduced a lot of that diversity and creativity and innovation into the different beer styles.  Use of ingredients, brewing processes, techniques, yeast strains.  You know, so, and temperature variations and then lots of very…  It’s a very collaborative industry, so breweries working in partnership with other breweries.  But now, what we’re doing more is cross platform promotion and multimedia collaboration. 

Ben: It’s a different world now isn’t it, the whole social media thing changes it!  It’s become boutique you can survive, where is ten years ago you couldn’t. 

Jack: Yeah exactly!   We are working in partnership with a novelist that’s released a book on Amazon and we will partner with one beer, put the QR code on, on the beer, put his book label on the beer and the QR code.  Will link to his Amazon page, so people can drink the beer look at the label read the text, download on to their kindle and start reading, while they finish their beer!

Ben: So, a drink and a read scenario!   Ah, that’s something that big companies just don’t get.

Jack:  No!

Ben: I mean you’ve never actually been able to meet the person that could decide to do that!

Jack: Yep, and I suppose that so .. We try and thrive on is our vagility and our ability to take quick decisions and move with the market trends and be the edgy cool cats that the craft industry represents!

Ben: This series that we’ve been recording, it’s quite interesting we go out and we speak to all these people about the different things that they, they have, there wears their selling.  What I find really interesting, is, it’s the small man who had the guts to stop something. I mean if you look at the size of this joint here, it’s pretty big and um you know!   Decides to risk it all, in some ways and, and, start their own company to be an entrepreneur is, is, is amazing!  But how did you get to this point, what what made you get to that point?

Jack: Well, I’ll joke a lot of the time that I’m an undercover a refugee because we were farmers in Zimbabwe and we were kicked out of there!

Ben: Drinking too much?

Jack: I look like an Aussie, so I can slip under the radar and yeah but pretty much.  We were sort of booted out with nothing, so I had to start again here!

Ben: Just to give the listeners an idea. Because I walk in and I see this and I they say oh this is fantastic! What, what would you have risked of start this thing up, what, what sort of money would you had to put down? 

Jack: Probably one and a half million!

Ben: It’s a lot of money that’s a house!

Jack: It is, it’s a big house and you know I suppose the significant pressure because you know money doesn’t come easy, so, the banks particularly, with the royal commission.  No one’s just giving away money and its very short payment times, unforgiving unless you meet your payments. They are just   lethal, so you know. 

Ben: And then from that you, you start this thing up. You buy all the equipment that’s still a risk you still haven’t proved yourself yet.  Then you’ve got to start to brew it, then then you start brewing then you’ve got to think logistics.  How, how do you get the stuff out and its um the boutique market is the way it’s all going. 

Jack: Yeah and it’s a you know it’s a very crowded market!  Obviously when we started just five years ago there would have been ten breweries in Queensland there is now sixty!  We’re lucky, in that we started reasonably early and of a scale that we could supply and export as well as the bigger retailers.  

Ben: So, what’s it like to see the all these boxes, what’s it like for you, to see them all go on a truck knowing that they’re on their way to Singapore and all these countries?  I mean it must give you a thrill!

Jack: Oh, it’s fantastic!   I mean the satisfaction particularly at this year. So, for example we just sent, um a load over to the north …Yorkshire where my grandfather was born, and my cousin has just taken over the estate and got one of the first liquor licenses in England in sixteen ninety.   And since my cousin took cover he has renovated it into a Yorkshire Ale house and got us to brew the first beer for him. 

Ben: How cool is that!  So that’s on its way to England is it? 

Jack: It’s already there!

Ben: Is there another one in production?

Jack: There, well I suppose we are just doing one batch at a time. So we’ve sent some of this to Singapore as well, and we’ve sent a full range now. We’ve got a really cool stockist there with a chain of buyers.  

Ben: What are these one’s over here, what’s this market? 

Jack: Yes, so sujata and salima are for a Singapore distributor. So, he’s got a fictional character called the Muddy Rascal. Which is this little guy on the label and basically, it’s his tales of this Muddy Rascal’s escapades all around Singapore and these are lovers that he’s left scattered around the city. And so, the range of beers will have a different girl’s face on each beer style and you know and then you follow Muddy Rascal on Instagram and the stories and mischief that he gets up to. 

Ben: When you look at beer in this country alone the amount of advertising that is spent associated with sport is amazing and people have grown up with a brand impressed on their name. They don’t know whether it’s good or bad they’re just buying a brand.  Is it hard to get that sort of breakthrough, is,  is the boutique industry not interested in that type of break through?

Jack: They are not interested in that sort of break through because it’s it’s a counter culture, yes I you know. What makes me laugh the most is when Tooheys support New South Wales Blues and Four X. Gold supports Queensland and both owned by the same company.  You know, the everyday person would not know that.     They are pitched against each other and you know. I only drink Tooheys New and I any drink ….   you are supporting the same foreign multi-national. Which is, is the sort of irony of it.

Ben: Which for them is about money.  Yeah, I mean this is about money but is it more about the passion and the money. 

Jack: Yeah and maintaining, you know I’ve got three young girls and we live in regional Australia and you know I suppose at the, the end of it.  It’s providing financial security for a family business in a region, in a beautiful regional town and .. and keeping that money in this economy.  So, we’d, we now have fifteen casuals, all the school kids, when they’re in year twelve, they you know, we will have usually four or five of them each year working at the brew house.  And they you know, we see their confidence growing as they get used to serving customers and learning about beers and you know we host all the Christmas parties around town. 

Ben: It’s about community a lot of people here don’t want to be multi- millionaires in the world that we live in. They are happy to be the king brewer in the town, but just be … just still part of the town. 

Jack: Exactly and you know, I suppose we don’t want to get a lot bigger than we currently are. We just want to keep doing what we do, really well! But, it takes such a long time, you know six seven years to start, to be in a position where you’re not ..  Where you haven’t got a foot to your throat and   you’re able to survive and then.

Ben: It’s also still trying to build your own reputation!

Jack: Yeah, yeah exactly and manufacture consistently and distribute!  So, I mean, it’s really….  I’m frustrated by the governments.  Because they pay a lot of lip service and want every photo opportunity with you when you succeed. But they’re the first to slap on new excise, increase a new   fire levy and a new whatever on to you, as soon as you’re doing well! 

Ben: But in terms of tourism and this town .. I mean let’s be honest, we’re in a beautiful part of the world most people would … this is a tourist attraction!

Jack: Absolutely!  Yeah and I mean that this is where we have these fantastic bus trips of people coming up. And you know they try a tasting paddle, we walked them through the brewing process and they can see it all being made and sit down at taste all the different beers.  And we take time, so often an hour or two on Saturday and we just chat to them about all the different ingredients that week, that we might have got in from the chilly farm and it’s a family meeting spot.  So, lots of …  we don’t have any screens so there’s no gambling, no pokies, no screens. So, all we rely on, is people coming in and sharing a beer having a chat and a conversation, listening to some music.

Ben: So, if someone was going for a drive through the coast today, they have definitely gotta come here for a drink and a beer!  

Jack: A long hard sit and contemplation about how good life is!

Ben: Thanks for having us today Jack:.  And Jack: Milbank is the founder and CEO of Bargaga Brewing Company, of course he is the man behind all the wonderful brewing techniques here in the brewhouse and when you come to Bundaberg. Just pop on in and say hello! as you drive your own adventure.  Thanks to Ingenia Holidays.           

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