It was a very rainy day in Byron Bay last Thursday and we didn’t know what to do. Then, my parents asked whether we wanted to take a tour around the Stone and Wood brewery factory. I got really excited and I couldn’t wait to see how beer was made. We were lucky to be offered a private tour for just my sister and I to be shown around the brewery and have the process of brewing beer explained to us.
The History of Stone and Wood
Since we have moved to Byron, every nice restaurant and cafe we have been to had Stone and Wood beers for sale and my mum and dad found it delicious. The company was created by three men: Jamie Cook, Brad Rogers and Ross Jurisich, all whom used to work at an old soft drink factory. As friends, they all got together and tried to make their own little company about something they love: beer. They set up the company in 2008 and so many people liked their beers. They had so much success in their work that they opened a new and much larger brewery in Murwillumbah in July 2014, a few kilometres away from Byron Bay. This is how Stone and Wood was created.
What I love about the Stone and Wood factories is that their brewery in Murwillumbah has 100 kw of solar panels on the roof to reduce their footprint. This means that all the energy they use to function their brewing machines are all powdered from the sun, which is very ecological and good for the environment. Stone and Wood are also really kind to the environment using very little water to make their beer and clean the machines (the average is 7 litres for every 1 litre of beer, but Stone and Wood only use 3 litres of water for 1 litre of beer).
- THE INGREDIENTS
We arrived at Stone and Wood brewery and were greeted by a lovely lady called Birralee.
She explained that beer is made from 4 basic ingredients: Barley, Hops, Water and Yeast.
Barley is a type of grain that grows in fields. Barley is used in bread, soups, stews, cereals and of course, beer. When the Barley is picked, the grains (called malt) are picked from the crop and are ready to sell. Malt has a husk on the outside and a grain in the inside. All colours, mouthfeel and slight touch of flavour of beer depends on the colour of the malt, for example, if you wanted to have a dark beer, it would have lots of darkly roasted malt in it, or if you wanted a more pale ale or beer, it would have lightly roasted malt in it, and if you wanted a plain beer, the malt inside it would be lightly dried.
Hops are the bud of the flowers of the hop plant, humulus lupulus. They pick the hops and add them to beer to give them the flavour. Hops are very zesty and citrusy and have very different flavours from where that come from around the world, for example, hops from Tasmania are very fruity whereas hops from Germany are very spicy. The hops in the picture below are hop pellets which are made specially just for beer. Hops are also used in other beverages and sometimes herbal medicine.
Yeast are actually living microorganisms that are so small that you have to see 800 times closer than a human eye view to see them close up. Together, they form a yellow powder. Yeast is used in cooking, bread, and of course, beer.
2. THE PROCESS
After having a lovely explanation from Birralee about the four different ingredients, we went with a lovely gentleman called Cale to have a tour around the brewery. We saw so many big shiny stainless steel containers with pipes and valves and I couldn’t wait to know how they all worked.
Step 1: Milling
We started the tour at a small machine at the end of the brewery. This machine was the grinder which separated the husk and the grain from each other. Inside the machine there are two metal plates that rub against each other (just like when you rub your hands together really quickly) and separate the husk from the grain.
Step 2: Mashing
After that, the now separated grain and husk (grist) is sucked through a pipe and goes into a big steel cone shaped container with a hole at the bottom called a grist case. The husk and grain go into the grist case and hot water is pumped into the grist case at high velocity to really mix the grist well. This mixture spins around the cone quickly and slowly falls through the hole. Below the hole is an even bigger container (that is not coned shaped) called the mixing chamber. This container is very big and has a blade or fan like mixer in the middle of it going around and around slowly, stirring the husk and grain around with the hot (but not boiling) water that is about 55-75 degrees Celsius. As you might know, most of the grain from the malt is made from a white powder called starch. Starch is actually an enzyme and like yeast, is microscopic as well. So now there are three things floating around the hot water, the husk, the grain and now starch. After a while of floating around, the starch starts to make sugar. So now sugar is added to the list of the three things floating around in the water. The starch continues to make sugar until its time is up. Then they drain out the sugary water through tiny holes at the bottom of the mixing chamber like a sieve so that the water goes through and the grains stay lying at the bottom of the mixing chamber. This is called the old grain. The old grain is collected by the local farmer which he uses to feed his cows which is amazingly good as it doesn’t just go the waste.
Step 3: Boiling
The sweet hot water (now called wort) travels through a pipe to the next container, the kettle. The wort is heated to remove bacteria and coagulate the proteins.
Step 4: Whirlpool
The wort with the hops then travels through another tube from the kettle to the whirlpool. The whirlpool is basically like a big empty steel container with a small hole at the bottom. The wort is poured through into the whirlpool with a lot of pressure and speed which means it circles around the container quickly. Suddenly, a vortex appears in the middle which is like a whirlpool of water going through the pipe. It is like sometimes when you pull out the drain from the bath and you see that little vortex, well that is exactly what is happening in the whirlpool container. All the flavoured clean wort is around the outside which is siphoned off and all the proteins (which we don’t want) and remaining bits and bobs go through the vortex and into waste. This is called trade waste. Unlike the old grain in the mashing process, Stone and Wood have not worked out what to do with the trade waste yet, but if they do we were told by Cale that they would be one of the most ecologically friendly and sustainable brewing companies in the world. Cale also told us that the world average of water used to make beer and clean the machines is 7 litres for every 1 litre of beer, but Stone and Wood only use 3 litres of water for 1 litre of beer which is very good for the environment.
Step 5: Cooling
The really clean warm wort then is pumped through the hole and through a tube. It then goes through a heat exchanger. It is basically a small machine where the tube with the warm wort goes through and the freezing water on the outside cools it down to 17 degrees Celsius. The cooled wort travels through the last container, the fermentation tank.
Step 6: Fermentation
In the fermentation tank, hops and yeast is added to the wort. The yeast eats the sugar and turns it into alcohol. The wort loses most of its sugar and gains alcohol. It is left for 8 days to 2 weeks to produce ale and 4-6 weeks to produce lager. When the time is up, the temperature is lowered from 17 to 7 degrees Celsius to put the yeast to sleep. It sinks to the bottom and joins the hops there as the yeast stops eating the sugar and producing more alcohol. All the yeast and hops are at the bottom of the fermentation tank and at the top is the fresh, cold beer ready to drink!
Step 7: Bottling
Finally, there is the bottling stage. Their is a pipe that is attached to the tap on the fermentation tank and the other end runs through to the packaging machine. The beer runs through the pipe into the packaging machine and the bottles get placed on a conveyor belt. The conveyor belt turns on and the bottles go around it. The first stop is the sticker machine. The sticker machine grabs the bottle and places the sticker of the logo ‘Stone and Wood’ and the sell by date (because Stone and Wood beer has no preservatives or additives and needs to be drunk relatively quickly compared to other commercial beers) on the bottle and places it back down on the moving conveyor belt where it moves along until it gets to the cap lid machine. The cap lid machine takes the bottle off the conveyor belt and pumps the beer into it with very high pressure so that the beer goes in and the air goes out. Before the air can get in again, the cap quickly slams itself on the top of the bottle. This is so no air can get in to keep the beer as fresh as possible. This is why when somebody opens a beer bottle it makes a “KCHHHHHH!” sound as it is gasping for air. Finally, the beer is now ready for sale.
3. THE BEERS
Stone and Wood have four different original types of beer: The Garden Ale, the Jasper Ale, the Green coast lager and the Pacific ale. They are all different in taste and colour.
The difference between an Ale and a Lager is that they are brewed with different types of yeast but they are also fermented at a different temperature. Ales are usually fermented in the fermentation tanks at a temperature of around 12 to 21 degrees celsius whereas Lagers are fermented at cooler temperatures of around 3 to 10 degrees celsius. As we know, the cooler fermentation temperatures slow the yeast down so this is why the lagers are left longer in the fermentation tanks. Another fact that I found interesting is that the shorter the beer is left, the more fruity it is and the longer it is left in the fermentation tanks, the more clear taste it has.
The Garden Ale
The Garden Ale is a beer that has a very citrusy flavour, lots of malt and a lovely bitter finish. It is orange in colour and very zesty and fruity in flavour (so I am told..).
The Jasper Ale
The Jasper Ale is a cherry-red beer with lots of spicy hops and lovely rich malt. It is known and recommended to be drunk at cool seasons, although it is still deliciously drunk all year round as well.
The Pacific Ale
The Pacific Ale is a lovely refreshing fruity ale. It has a light sunflower colour, a soft yeast cloud and is perfect to drink on a hot summer’s day. The Pacific ale was the first beer that was ever created by Stone and Wood.
The Green Coast Lager
The Green Coast Lager is an amber coloured full malt beer that has subtle hops. As a beer, it is very cloudy and has a lovely soft and clean finish.
Thank you Birralee and Cale. It was such an amazing tour around the brewery learning about making beer. It was very interesting learning about the ingredients, the recycled old grain and how all the machines work. I had so much fun and I am hoping that maybe I can start my own beer company when I am older!
From Apollinaire 🍺