Story and photos: Simon Haslam
I was lucky enough to visit Stone & Wood recently to see the initial brew being made of the 2022 Stone Beer, the star attraction at the upcoming Festival of the Stone at Stone & Wood’s Byron brewery site on Saturday 4 June. Well, the whole ‘festival’ is a big party night really, with live bands and food trucks and a party crowd, as well as beer, but the excuse for the party is the unveiling of this year’s Stone Beer – in some ways it’s like going to a toddler’s birthday party that just keeps going after the toddler’s gone to sleep.
Having been on a number of tours of the brewery in the 11 years since they started over in Boronia Place in the Byron Arts and Industry Estate, I was surprised how much I learned in this tour. Either I’m a complete dumbass who can’t absorb information, or there’s a lot more to brewing beer than you’d think.
Something that struck me on this tour was the large number of malts (different types of malted barley in this case) that are combined to make the flavour profile of the Stone Beer, from the more common light malts right up to the dark chocolatey malt. Having crunched my way through the whole range, it will be a challenge to see how many different notes I can taste at the unveiling.
A master brewer can have a pretty good guess at how different malts will combine to form a beer, something which saves a fair bit of time and money at Stone & Wood, where the smallest worthwhile pilot brew is about 600 litres. That might seem hard enough without the additional challenge posed by Stone Beer: having to extract red-hot rocks from a firepit blazing in the courtyard and hoist them up to the first floor, where they are added to the ‘mash’. This process (traditionally called ‘rousing the mash’) adds another level of character to the beer as the ingredients caramelise around the hot rocks, and that flavour gradually dissipates into the finished product.
I have to say the actual extraction and transportation of the red-hot rocks, which seemed to me a pretty cavalier process involving beer drinking and the cracking of the concrete at Boronia Place, has become slightly more professional over the years, but not so much that you’d notice!
The blokes who ran Stone & Wood sold out to Lion Nathan about a year ago, which was a big surprise to everyone, but according to the staff I talked to, the staff fared pretty well, and a lot of them remain, which means there’s still a feeling that you’re dealing with many of the old local Stone & Wood ‘family’. But, check out the vibe for yourself, either at the brewery for a tasting or at the Festival of the Stone event, at which all profits raised will go to the Fletcher St Cottage, a recently re-established specialist homelessness centre in the heart of Byron.