I like learning. I like beer. So how fitting that Stone and Wood‘s brewery tour featured both in large amounts.
When I went to Byron Bay, I was told that one of Australia’s most loved beers was born right there… and so it was that I booked a tour with the Stone and Wood folks, who were kind enough to host me and listen to my drunk rambling as they explained the science and history behind their beer.
According to the lovely Birralee, who took me on a tour during my time in Byron, beer was born around the time of the Industrial Revolution, the result of a bread mix gone wrong due to too much water being added to it. It probably tasted foul, but at the time “waste not” was a must… and then people realised what they had in their hands and came up with this nectar of the gods. How cool is that? Now, back to Stone and Wood.
Founded in 2008 by Jamie, Brad and Ross, who were tired of corporate life, Stone and Wood was born in the very Byron shed that hosts the tours. Initially, the shed was the first and only brewery – and demand was so high the team had to brew 24/7.
Two years ago the business grew massively, but instead of selling it out to another bigger company the team decided to buy a new brewery. The Mulluwamba brewery is an old Bunnings warwhouse, 10 times as big as the Byron one, which now only deals with 10 per cent of the production and leaves the remaining 90 to the bigger site.
The name Stone and Wood comes from the brand’s commitment to original, natural brewing. They initially didn’t use an electronic brew system, but preferred heating Fijian stones up to 100 degrees celsius, a practice which produced better caramelised flavours in the beer. The “Wood” side of the business comes from beer barrels.
Stone and Wood has three main values: Community minded; fiercely independent and environmentally conscious. All it takes is a stroll around Byron Bay to see where the first value comes from: the brewery supports all local events and many Byron bars proudly serve only Stone and Wood on tap. The company also regularly donates to local charities, to which tour guests can donate too in return for a free beer.
Stone and Wood is Australia’s largest independent brewery after Coopers, which has been around for 100 years. The beer is fully hand crafted and brewed by humans rather than robots, which allows for discrepancies in between batches.
When it comes to the environmentally conscious side of the business, Stone and Wood show they care by taking part in a variety of planet-friendly initiatives like beach clean-up days in exchange for beer. For instance, considering beer is made of 95% water, the company has a “Green Feet” team whose role is to lessen environmental impact through solar panels or reverse osmosis, using recycled water in every way possible other than as ingredient. This allows the company to use two litres of new water instead of the seven you normally need to make beer, a practice that has made Stone and Wood the only beer business in Australia to be certified as a B corporation.
During the tour, we also learnt that all beers are born with a local focus. The Pacific Ale comes from the spirit of Byron Bay as a surf town, while the Big Scrub comes after the local rainforest.
The tour ended with a recce of the main beer machines, including an interesting if disturbing look at the live (and Alien-like) organism the team use to make Kombucha. It was lovely to see how much care and character falls into Stone & Wood beers, with the Byron Brewery still using its first bottling machine, which they called Amy Winehouse, an old wine bottler they bought second hand which should bottle 1000 units per day but now only does 700 on a good day.
The alcohol fuelled tour, started with a beer in the garden to discuss the brewery’s history, ended with a lovely paddle and the inevitable t-shirt purchase. Walking back to my room was no easy task, so maybe everything I’ve written here is really a product of an enhanced Stone & Wood sense of ecstasy.
*Stone & Wood offered me the tour as a gift but all opinions are my own*