Last week I wrote about the beachside brewing and bottling of Burleigh Brewing on the Gold Coast. In Part 2 of this article, I head an hour south to the home of the beach inspired beer that was the inaugural #1 of the Critic’s Choice and a silver medal winner at the prestigious 2012 World Beer Cup.
The beachside town of Byron Bay is home to a free spirited population. The atmosphere is relaxed yet the town is always alive with activity. Surf culture and the tourism industry dominate modern Byron Bay, but the alternative lifestyles that shaped the region’s bohemian reputation from the 1970s still holds the soul of the town. Artistic and creative pursuits abound year round through festivals, entertainment, parties and cultural celebrations. However, it is often the beautiful beach and the waves that attract the many visitors to Byron Bay.
My first visit to this popular beach destination on the northern coast of New South Wales occurred during the middle of winter, but this was not winter as most Melbourians know it. The sky was blue and the sun was invigorating. The temperature may not have been ripe for swimming, yet the beach still called for us to come down and enjoy the simple pleasure of watching the ocean. From the sand you can stare out into the South Pacific Ocean, with no mainland between you and the coast of Chile. Suddenly the need for an ocean inspired ale whilst contemplating the scene was never more appropriate.
At the many bars, restaurants, cafes and bottleshops around this small beach town you will find the beers from Stone & Wood Brewery taking pride of place. They are beers that celebrate the simple pleasures of the Byron Bay beach.
The free spirits behind Stone & Wood Brewing found their ideal environment at Byron and in 2008 they set about brewing beers for their favourite place on earth. The company’s three founders – Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich – left the corporate brewing world at Fosters to start their own beer business. Their aim was to restore some simplicity to their brewing and business crafts.
Driven by a passion for the basic ingredients of beer – water, hops, malt and yeast – combined with a long standing love of the ocean, the team at Stone & Wood have made waves across Australia and the world with their unique beers that speak for quality over quantity.
Stone & Wood’s flagship beer, Pacific Ale, has been recognised in Australia and overseas as a leading innovation in new-world brewing. The stylish-but-unstyled bright ale offers a big fruity aroma and taste from lush Galaxy hops. The name showcases the beer’s inspiration – the Pacific Ocean, onto which I gazed that day.
The second beer from Stone & Wood, the lager, is an offering for the surfers and the faithful long term residents of the region. Like most of the population outside of our major cities, the locals have barely known any other beer than the big name lagers that have dominated the State’s beer market for decades. Stone & Wood Lager is a communal beer, inspired by the beer halls of Germany, a nod to the communal living of retro Byron Bay. When the sun and ocean has worn you down, this local lager provides a full malt body and clean finish that revitalises your palate.
If the rain falls in Byron Bay, the new Jasper ale brings a darker edge to the Stone & Wood character. Jasper is an ode to the Byron Bay hinterland that is now winning over diners at the local pubs and restaurants during the cooler months.
The Stone & Wood brewery is located in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate, a business park unlike any I have come across before. The precinct combines industrial warehouses and manufacturing workshops with niche artisan businesses, studios, exhibition spaces and shops.
The brewery sits inside a large shed that was once a cordial factory. White sand lines the ground around the site, seeping through from the beach shoreline that lies less than a kilometre from the brewery.
Inside it is packed full of tanks. This is microbrewing on a large scale. The brewhouse is designed for step-mashing, which helps ensure the quality and ease of brewing Pacific Ale. Earlier this year they installed two shiny new 10,000 litre vessels in the centre of the brewery. The tanks were custom made for them in Griffith and now tower over the rest of the brewing equipment. The brewery space had to be reconfigured to squeeze them into the shed, and more work is due to be done.
Daily activity inside the brewery is divided between brewing, cleaning, racking kegs, bottling and constant minor construction to improve the brewery’s space and safety. The fermentation tanks are labelled by a square L or P, the same used on a car’s windscreen for Learner and Probationary drivers., to signify that the tanks contain either the Lager or Pacific ale.
I asked Stone & Wood co-founded Jamie Cook what lead their decision to utilise the 500ml pint size bottles. Whilst it seemed obvious that the large bottle format was aimed at differentiating their once-a-year small batch release of Stone Beer, the choice was less clear for use with their Pacific ale and new Jasper beer. Maybe it was a cue from their colleagues at Little World Brewing, which invested a percentage stake in the start-up of Stone & Wood as well as providing distribution for their beers.
“We were always on the lookout for a large format bottle. There were design elements that we were looking for both in terms of image and appeal and in practical terms,” explained Jamie.
“The 500ml bottle design supports the Stone & Wood brand by being a strong bottle with some slightly traditional Australian beer cues (the stubby bottle shape), which also matches our label design. It also hasn’t been commonly used in Australia so that gives us a small point of difference. The 500ml volume is big enough to provide some upsize and taps into the pint mentality of on-premise drinking, without being too big to drink out of the bottle.”
Pragmatic reasons for the choosing that design included its similar width and height to their 330ml bottle. This allowed them to continue utilising their automated bottling machine, minimising the need to invest in additional bottle fillers or parts.
Jamie described how they also offer practical advantages for retailers and drinkers.
“The bottles fit on any shelf in the bottle shop or bar fridge – you will notice in bottles shops that they store all the 750ml or those tall 640ml bottles in one section of the fridge. That’s because they have to have a bigger distance between the shelves, which limits the number of shelves they can have in the fridge, which of course limits the amount of stock or range they can carry. So having our 500ml bottle the same height as our 330ml bottles means it doesn’t need to be jammed into the tall bottle section of the fridge, which is usually tight for space, but can be merchandised right along side our other beers or in any shelf in the fridge.”
“Another benefit of that bottle design is that it is very space efficient, meaning that you can pack a good volume of beer into given space. This is really important in Australia where beer has to travel long distances, as it can improve the efficiencies in freight. We fit 60 cartons of our 330ml bottles on a pallet (475 litres) but we can pack 100 cartons of our 500ml bottles on a pallet (600 litres).”
“Large format bottles provide another option for consumption and are a good pack type for gaining distribution on-premise where the number of taps may be limited. The added advantage is the reduced packaging required, (no six packs to worry about. Off premise they tap into a trend towards people buying bigger format bottles.”
“Although Jasper was a long time in the making, we wanted to slip it into the market by first getting it into the craft beer-centric bars and bottles shops. These outlets are predisposed to the large bottle format, there was less investment in packaging design and materials (no six packs), and it gives the drinker the opportunity to trial the new beer without having to buy a whole six pack. One day when it sales hit a volume we are happy with it may end up in 330ml bottles as well.”
“We try and keep things fairly simple at Stone & Wood, so minimising packaging materials, change overs and so on is all part of that.”
In the past Jamie has noted the “Stone & Wood” name will come clear in the fullness of time. The elementary and uncomplicated essence of the name already rings true through their approach to brewing, the beers they produce and their connection to drinkers. In more literal terms, we have Stone & Wood brew with stone, so maybe a wooded beer is on the horizon? Will a future Stone Beer be wood aged?
For now, drinking Stone & Wood beers in Byron Bay truly bring to light the purpose of these brews. These are beach beers – easy going, refreshing and sessionable without compromising on character and flavour. The beers are creative and unique, yet they embrace the simple pleasures of brewing and drinking.
What’s missing at Stone ? Anything complicated, just like a day at the beach.