Back to the Future as Billson’s Brewery Celebrates Success

Imagine a young couple successfully living and working in Melbourne.

He studied Exercise Physiology before transitioning to packaging design.

She was working as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist.

Then, just like that, Nathan and Flic Cowan quit their jobs, sold their St Kilda home, and embarked on a huge – and risky – business adventure.

Stumbling across a dusty old brewery for sale in Beechworth, they made the tenacious decision to not only restore this amazing old building – but also to turn it back into a successful brewing business.

And so, Billson’s Brewery was reborn.

Iconic piece of history

“We were definitely looking for a change in scenery and an adventure,” said Flic.

“Nathan had spent time working in his family’s design business and developed a passion for building brands. I thought it would be nice to raise a family in the countryside. We both shared a passion for history and heritage buildings.

“When we stumbled across the brewery for sale, we fell in love with Beechworth and the chance to restore such an iconic piece of the towns past.”

Australia’s oldest tower brewery, the original business was founded in 1865 by George Billson, who then sold to Murray Breweries in 1914.

Nathan and Flic bought it from Murray Breweries and set about reclaiming the brewery’s legacy, using the original recipes.

Their determination – and the brewery’s access to fresh spring water and local botanicals – has not only reestablished the business but also earned an Australia-wide reputation for its excellent beers, sodas, spirits, and cordials.

“From the moment we walked through the doors, we could see it was full of potential,” said Nathan.

Return to quality

“With a lot of hard work over the last few years, we have brought it back to life. Our greatest joy is seeing flavour enthusiasts from all over Australia coming together in our historic brewery.

“Our story is about a comeback, a return to quality and the revival of craftsmanship.”

In a world where people tend to search for the next big thing, Nathan and Flic looked to the past for inspiration and guidance, believing that sometimes, the best way to move forward, is to look back.

“This has been our mantra! We believe that sometimes we don’t need to reinvent when we can simply restore,” said Flic.

“The history of our brewery has taught us so much about resilience and adaption. The business has encountered many challenges over its more than 150 years of history; however, the team has always found a way to survive.

“Our favourite example of this was in the 1890s, when the Temperance movement started to gain traction, impacting the sales and consumption of beer and alcoholic products.

Original recipes

“George Billson and his team responded by developing a range of low alcohol and non-alcoholic drinks, including a range of cordials that we continue to craft using the same handwritten recipes today.”

So, how much experience in brewing – and in doing business – did this couple have before buying the brewery?

“Zilch! In a way this has been an advantage as we were so naïve about the challenges we would encounter!

“Nathan studied Exercise Physiology before transitioning to packaging design and I worked as a Nuclear Medicine Technologist, a role that couldn’t be more different from the one I am in today!

“I worked at the Royal Children’s Hospital which taught me a lot about perspective. We had no background in brewing, however, have been lucky enough to work with some incredible local brewers.

Overcoming challenges

“As any small business owner knows, the challenges are daily and never ending. The past six years has felt like scrambling from one test to the next.

“For us, these challenges have included bushfires, covid, supply chain failures, planning constraints, a shortage of local housing for our team and a lack of production capacity.”

But despite those huge challenges, the business has not only survived – but also prospered! How?

“With the help of an incredible team and a positive focus on the future. We’ve always done our best to lead with passion, authenticity, and empathy during really tough times.”

This modest couple are always quick to acknowledge the help and expertise of others. They have managed to create a business with national recognition, whilst encompassing locals.

In fact, input from their team and their local community are key to the future of the business.

“We ask our community what they’d love to see next, and we work really hard to try and deliver it.

The best is yet to come

“Launching so many flavours allows us to better understand our consumers and evolve our business based or their preferences.

“We’ve never really put a ceiling on where that philosophy can take us. We believe we are yet to create our best taste experiences.

“Our plan has always centered around creating a unique and memorable experience for everyone who comes in contact with Billson’s.

“Whether you are able to visit us in Beechworth, taste one of our newest flavours or simply follow our progress on social media, we’d love for you to feel part of our journey in restoring this local treasure.”

Without a doubt, George Billson would be very proud of what the business has become.

Today, Billson’s brews amazing beers, sodas, spirits, and cordials, opens for lunch, runs tours, and offers free tastings of all products for adults and children.

There’s a family (and dog-friendly) beer garden, a factory viewing deck, and Billson’s Speakeasy – a sophisticated place for a cocktail or glass of local wine.

In addition, there is Billson’s Soda Bar – the home of non-alcoholic milkshakes, spiders and sodas ( and Isabella’s Cocktail Bar – a hidden fine dining cocktail bar (

Future plans

And of course, there’s a cellar door shop – as well as a top notch website where you can pick and mix your favourites online.

So, what’s next for this historical success story and its enthusiastic owners?

“This year our aim is to create 100 new products! Next year our business will begin to launch internationally. This is so surreal to us.

“We have no idea if our products will resonate overseas; however, that forms part of the excitement!”

To find out more about Billson’s Brewery, be sure to visit, follow them on Facebook at and on Instagram at

Nathan and Flic’s 3 HOT TIPS for anyone planning on buying a business in 2024!

  1. Trust your intuition.
  2. Don’t shy away from making mistakes; they are a vital part of the process. Test and learn quickly.
  3. Work out what makes your offering unique and amplify it.

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