Chris McBeer / 17.06.11
In times past, breweries were all about stone and wood. Brewing was done in wooden vessels that couldn’t be heated directly, so those ingenious brewers dropped in superheated rocks to boil their beer. These were known as stein beers.
Breweries these days are all about steam and stainless steel but some brewers still like to connect with history. And who better in Australia to continue this tradition than the appropriately named Stone and Wood Brewing Company? And where better on earth than Byron Bay to spend a gloriously unwintry June day as the Stone & Wood team brewed their third annual Stone Beer? Especially when it’s the sort of beautiful morning that demands you cast off the jeans and jumpers of a Melbourne winter for t-shirts and boardies. And one on which the brewers quickly discover the risks associated with inviting guests along to a brew day: it turns out that opening grain bags is something akin to doing a Mensa test, and soon a new daily record is set for accidentally turning off the milling machine…
Seven different types of grain are used in the Stone Beer and this year Brad has slightly altered the mix, the intention being to give the beer a bit more colour and weight.
“There will be a little bit more of that nice toffee syrupiness that we’re looking for,” he says.
Despite the breaking of the much loved Stone & Wood stirring stick (somebody won’t be getting invited back next year) us ‘brewers for the day’ eventually get some wort into the kettle and the hop additions done: this year’s beer uses spalt and tettnang for bittering, with Hallertau added to the whirlpool later in the day.
It’s at this point that the stars of the show appear: the rocks. Brad found them during his time brewing in Fiji and has been carting them around ever since without ever really having a purpose for them. Co-owner Jamie Cook explains that it wasn’t until after they formed Stone and Wood and started talking about creating a stein beer to celebrate the name that everything fell into place.
As the sun starts to set a fire is built in the driveway and the rocks are added with one of Brad’s sons doing the honours. Like moths, the ‘brewers for the day’ soon forget their duties and congregate around the fire to enjoy the freshest Stone and Wood beers you could ever wish to taste as the rocks are transformed in colour from grey to black to white. Once ready, they’re given a quick rinse to remove the ashes and placed in a purpose built basket. A short dash with this super hot cargo follows, and soon Brad’s hooking the basket up to a cable and lowering it into the kettle; a hissing lets us know the stones have met liquid and are doing their job.
Once the stones have done their work – and we’ve gorged on pizza and more fresh beer – they’re raised out of the kettle. Caramelised sugars can be seen glistening on their surface, while aromas of toasted raisin bread waft through the air. Mmmm…raisin bread beer. However, at this point, only half their job is done, so after the wort is transferred to the fermentation tank they’re lowered back in. For the next week or so they will sit in the tank and help to give those toffee and caramel flavours that characterise steinbeers.
It turns out the fire’s job isn’t over either: it’s still needed to keep us warm when the professionals join us amateurs over a few quiet ones around the fire. They seem happy enough that we haven’t stuffed things up too badly so maybe there’s a chance we’ll get an invite back again next year. Please, pretty please?
As for the beer, the boys have organised The Festival of the Stone at the brewery on July 23 to celebrate its release. It will be a night of tunes, art and films with details appearing on The Crafty Pint when they’re locked in. If you’re not lucky enough to live in Byron Bay then you’ll just have to be content with picking some up from your favourite quality craft beer outlet from the following week.
Mr McBeer travelled to Byron Bay as a guest of Stone & Wood