Everyone remembers their first time. Your first crush, first sip of alcohol your parents allowed you, first kiss, first sexual experience. The list goes on. I remember my first craft beer. I left Australia in 2005 bound for London for 5 years. I remember a landscape (especially on the Gold Coast) of shit bars and the only options for beer was Corona, Crown Larger, XXXX and Stella. It was poor and up until that point I hadn’t taken to beer and I think it was largely down to the rubbish on offer.
Heading to London, the Real Ale movement was in full effect and I was able to dive head first into the room temperature ales on offer. I wasn’t complaining as they were much more interesting that what was on offer back in Oz. In 2011 I moved back and headed to Melbourne and on our first day I headed into Dan Murphys on Chapel Street to check out the lay of the land. My jaw dropped when I saw the isles and shelves of new breweries and craft beer that had exploded in my absence.
I remember my first time. I was perched at the bar at Gorski and Jones on Smith Street for one of our first dinners and by chance ordered a glass of Stone and Wood Pacific Ale. Jesus Christ. That first mouthful was akin to a religious experience. I got flavours of passionfruit, mango and grapes – were these flavours even allowed in a beer? I had a long way to go to get a handle on craft beer but I don’t think I could have started my obsession in any better way.
Having family on the Gold Coast does have its perks. One being that you can escape from it and hightail it to Byron Bay in only an hour for a longboard session at The Pass. Like the Gold Coast the foodie situation is improving in leaps and bounds as budding operators visit places like Sydney and Melbourne and figure out the gaps in the market to fill in their home towns. But I was on a mission – to have a full day of sunburn and surf in Byron Bay and then on the way home stick my head in to say hi at Stone and Wood.
Arriving just after 3pm I was able to tack myself onto a brewery tour. Having done these the world over – there are brewery tours that just go through the motions and there are those with so much passion for what they do that you become a life long fan, buy all their merchandise and take a carton home in the boot. The latter is this kind of brewery. Before the tour starts you’re handed a beer to escort you around the premises because “it doesn’t seem right to do a brewery tour without a beer in hand”.
Stone and Wood have just expanded their operations to a much larger site in Murwillumbah. Previously if you decided to pay Stone and Wood a visit at their original brewery you wouldn’t have been able to fit through the front door. They would have just said “thanks for coming and here’s a bottle of beer for your troubles”. But with the new brewery up and running they have been able to free up some space, time and breathing space to conduct tours that give you an insight into their brewing process and some history on how it was on the old days (8 months ago).
After the brewery part of the tour we finish up at the brew bar/taproom – a surprisingly smart setup. We are led through the full range of Stone and Wood range on tap – starting with their Larger and proceeding through to their Pacific Ale, Garden Ale and Jasper Ale – getting a very decent pour of each. We were lucky enough to have an opportunity to try (by vote) their Belgium Saison which was brewed for their limited edition Beers of the Earth series. So a full brewery tour and the equivalent of 3 pints of brewery-fresh beer for only $10 is well worth your time and effort.
As I was leaving I spotted a tasting session of local salami happening with some of the brewers. They have plans to offer local Byron cured meats cheese and bread (the local bakery uses wheat at the end of the brewing process in some of their bread) which will also launch with their tasting paddles. So if you’re in Byron I strongly suggest you head a little out of town into the small industrial park and wile away an afternoon in the best craft beer way possible.
Open Hours: Tuesday to Friday 9am – 4pm. Saturday 9am – 2pm.
Stone and Wood Brewery Tours: Tuesday to Friday at 1pm and 3pm. Saturdays at 11am and 1pm