Stone & Wood Brewing Company was established in 2008, at the forefront of the Craft Beer crusade. After many years working in the beer business for commercial beer mogul CUB, business partners Brad Rogers, Jamie Cook and Ross Jurisich decided to step out on their own and create a product they were truly proud of.
Their first beer, the Pacific Ale was brewed for Byron and was an absolute hit. Fast forward nearly 10 years and the Stone & Wood boys are going gangbusters, with a new brewery opened in Murwillumbah to meet growing demand, a happy staff count of about 100, and having recently been awarded the Champion Large Australian Brewery award at the Australian International Beer Awards (AIBA) – it’s safe to say industry recognition is well on their list of accomplishments!
We caught up with one third of the original owners, Ross Jurisich when he was in town for GABS Festival recently to find out a little more about their time at the event, the future of Stone & Wood and the future of craft beer in general.
What keeps you guys coming back to the GABS Festival?
Events like GABS push the boundaries of what beer can be, and challenge people’s perception on what beer can be. We’ve been coming since it started and it just creates a lot of activity and a lot of hype around our industry, which is awesome.
It’s also just great to be back in Melbourne; there’s such an incredible food and drink scene here, it’s a city that just celebrates flavour in everything. It’s a very cool place to be. Melbourne just has an understated sophistication about it. If you don’t live here, you’ve got to get here once or twice a year to get your culture fix.
What are you guys pushing this year, anything in particular?
We did brew a beer for GABS. The whole idea about GABS is that there are about 120 unique beers available that have been brewed especially for the festival.
In the past we haven’t had the flexibility to be able to do a brew in small enough quantities for the festival. But we recently just put in a smaller pilot plant where we can do 10 keg runs. It allowed us to come up with something weird and wacky, which is perfect for GABS.
So what have you made for GABS?
It’s a fruit infused beer, literally with fruit in it. The brewers got together and we concocted some weird sort of thing that they could release some of their creativity on.
That’s the great thing about GABS, there are no limits to what you can come up with, there are no boundaries to it. Whatever is weird and wacky that you think could work, or if there’s something that you’ve always wanted to do but didn’t have an outlet for it, GABS is the perfect opportunity
Do you ever find it hard to come up with something new, or are you always thinking of ideas?
I think we like to keep things fairly simple at Stone & Wood; however, the great thing about being in craft beer is that you’re not bound by any guidelines. So the creativity and the originality of it is pretty well limitless.
You can come up with whatever you like, you don’t have to fit within a specific beer style. That’s what we like about this category; there’s an opportunity to be completely original, all that matters is people have to bloody want to drink it, that’s the commercial reality!
Have you ever had a wacky idea for a brew that maybe didn’t turn out as planned?
Not really, but arguably Pacific Ale kind of was. It was our first beer; it was originally called Draught Ale. It was never designed to go into a bottle, and as ‘draught’ means to draw from a tank, it was supposed to be in a keg.
But it had quite a strong following so we put it into a bottle and thought, ‘we can’t call it draught anymore’. So we had to come up with a name for it, but it’s a beer that doesn’t sit in any specific style. We’re as close to the edge of the Pacific Ocean as you can possibly get, so we thought ‘well…stuff it – we’ll just call it Pacific Ale’.
At the time that beer was out there, really out there. The hop in it is a hop called Galaxy; it’s a very aromatic style of hop and it was quite challenging for a lot of people at the time. Now, it’s almost commonplace, it’s not pushing the boundary on flavour, and that’s just an indication of how the category has grown and how our tastes have developed, and now bigger and bolder things challenge us.
It’s an interesting time to be in beer. But as far as trying something that hasn’t worked, it’s all trial and error.
In what way has the industry evolved since Stone & Wood began?
We’ve done a joint venture with Tom Delmont from Fixation Brewing Company, who is designed to do one thing, and that’s North West American IPA’s. That’s all they do, and they do it really well – if you’re going to do one thing, you might as well do it bloody well!
We know that style of beer here in Australia, however to have a brand where that is all they do is something pretty novel. We’ve noticed that you probably couldn’t have done that five years ago, because people’s taste profiles hadn’t developed to a stage where they could just have a lot of that. So it’s sort of taken this journey.
It’s interesting to think about people’s take on flavours and appreciation for flavour as well. We often use the analogy of coffee, cheese and bread. As in, once you’ve had espresso coffee – it’s impossible to go back to instant coffee. Beer is no different; once you experience flavour in beer it’s hard to go back to the more macro styles of beer.
Is there anything in particular trending in the craft beer world at the moment?
Yes, definitely – which is a great thing about this space; it’s just evolving all the time. There is quite a big push towards sour beers and barrel aged beers; we’re already seeing a fair bit of that in Australia now, with the likes of Boatrocker Brewing Company; they’re probably the first in Australia to really be dedicated to that style. And owning that space is pretty cool, they’re running with it.
What we’re seeing in the U.S at the moment is fruit infused beers, like grapefruits and passionfruit, all that kind of thing – that’s a big thing over there at the moment, whether it will make its way over here remains to be seen but it has definitely become a pretty big thing over there.
Three of you started Stone & Wood, do you have a main role that you take care of, or is it shared across the board?
We did have when we started; I think that’s what helped us grow. The three of us all used to work together at CUB, and we hatched a plan of setting up our own brewery, which meant each one of us needed to want to leave pretty well-paying, safe-ish careers, mortgage and sell everything that we had, stick it all into the brewery and have a go. For that to be able to be successful, we needed everyone in their area of expertise to do their bit and then bring it all together.
Brad was very much on the brewing and production side, Jamie on the administration and brand and marketing side, and myself very much in the sales area, Jamie and I would work on the marketing a bit together. All three of us have an input into what each of us are doing anyway, we’re quite lucky that we all have complimenting skill sets and we actually enjoy each other’s company.
Being based in Byron, does that encompass a lot of what you guys do, in terms of flavours or branding?
A little, I think that’s what people tap into when making their choice in beer. We’re fortunate that our backyard sort of comes through in our beers. Pacific Ale was specifically made for Byron Bay, I’ve told this story a million times but if you’re coming off the beach on a nice hot summer’s day, you’ll head across the park into the Beach Hotel in Byron, and you want something that’s refreshing, that has flavour, that you can have a few beers in one sitting.
So we started with that concept, and worked our way back to develop the beer. We’re a product of our backyard, and that way it’s not hard work; we’re not trying to be something that we’re not. We tap into a lot of things like music, surfing and the arts, and all those things are quite prominent in the Northern Rivers. That’s just what we like to do.
What’s in the pipeline for Stone & Wood?
The last 12-24 months has been about infrastructure expansion; so being able to make enough beer. We’ve just pretty well finished a big expansion, now we’re just on the other side of that, which will see us have some good clear space for the next three years; we’ll be able to grow into that capacity over the next three years, which takes a bit of pressure off everyone in the business and allows us to plan a little bit better.
The next three years are just continuing to grow at a sustainable rate that doesn’t pose too much pressure on everyone in the business. We’ve been growing at 100 per cent year on year, and once you get to a certain size that’s going to be unsustainable. We’re a privately owned business, we don’t have to grow to meet anyone else’s expectations other than our own; we’re not dictated to by shareholders or finance writers or anyone like that, we just grow at our own speed.
4 Boronia Pl,
Byron Bay NSW 2481
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