Raise a glass to the NSW brewers and distillers who are busier than ever

From left: Eddie Brook at Cape Byron Distillery, Winding Road Distilling Co's Camille and Mark Awad, Seven Mile Brewing Co owner Matt Wilson and head brewer at Stone & Wood Coalan Vaughan.
From left: Eddie Brook at Cape Byron Distillery, Winding Road Distilling Co's Camille and Mark Awad, Seven Mile Brewing Co owner Matt Wilson and head brewer at Stone & Wood Coalan Vaughan.

Coalan Vaughan is not one to be complain, but the head brewer at Stone & Wood had a problem during the most recent school holidays.

Byron Bay's pioneering craft beer brand had its biggest day on record.

"A good problem granted," says Mr Vaughan. "We just can't brew enough beer at the moment to keep up with demand," he says.

And especially, since their recent decision to expand into the big retail chains. They had not expected their draught business to return until this October.

"But the demand for draught has come back a lot earlier than that," says Mr Vaughan, "with half of Sydney coming up to the NSW Northern Rivers, we're busier than we've ever been."

Crafty Brew: Head Brewer at Stone & Wood, Coalan Vaughan. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

Crafty Brew: Head Brewer at Stone & Wood, Coalan Vaughan. PHOTOS: SUPPLIED

But quoting Winston Churchill, Mr Vaughan says: "We haven't let a good crisis got to waste."

They've maximised their yields and the brews are currently running 24/7 to get back to full capacity.

The brewer is also preparing to honour the credits they gave their clients who, during lock down, weren't in a position to take on their kegs. The craft brewer lost 50 per cent of its volume, "in one fell swoop" so, as outlets open again, "we'll be giving that beer for free, which is a pretty hefty sum".

Bringing their clients along in the journey is a no-brainer for Stone & Wood though - after all, its the concept of "giving back" that has seen them grow from their small beginnings as a "village brewer" back in 2008, to over $60 million and a sales volume of 12 million litres annually.

COVID has actually led Stone & Wood's management to double down on their core values as a "conscious local business", says Mr Vaughan. "We've re-purposed. We've been forced to innovate and become more efficient."

Their raw materials, effluent and biomass has become valuable trade waste for local producers and there's even been some creative diversification in staffing. None of Stone & Wood's 130 full-time or casual staff were let go, says Coalan, they were just deployed.

The main plan now for the most instagramed beer in Australia is to continue to disrupt the craft beer market.

A new alcoholic mineral water call Sunly Seltzer, described as "spiked water", is on the way as is their new 2.7 proof ale called East Point.

Punters can also feel happy about how the company is supporting the region. The recipients of a new $100 000 COVID grants by the company's not-for-profit the inGrained Foundation have just been announced which include: The Rainforest 4 Foundation, The Mullum District Neighbourhood Centre, and other volunteer- led organisations.

TOP DROP: Winding Road Distilling Co's Camille and Mark Awad savour their creation.

TOP DROP: Winding Road Distilling Co's Camille and Mark Awad savour their creation.

Winding Rd Distilling Co

Mark and Camille Awad's Tintenbar home looks just like any other - until you open the garage door, that is.

Inside, almost every inch of floor and wall space is taken up with wooden barrels, tanks, boxes and trolleys. At the heart of it all, a big gleaming copper still.

Since 2015, the two-and-half car garage has been the hub of Mark and Camille's fledgling business, Winding Rd Distilling Co, a small batch family-run distillery creating hand-crafted whisky, rum and gin.

Mark, originally from Southern California, and Camille, from the Yarra Valley, came to the Northern Rivers 13 years ago after a stint in the US, attracted by the region's natural beauty and sense of community.

It was in 2015 that they hit on the idea of a distillery.

"We were sitting down at Lake Ainsworth on a summer evening with some friends, and I said: 'there's a lot of sugar cane around, maybe we could start making rum'," Mr Awad said.

"Camille didn't laugh at me, so I thought 'hmm, there might be something to this."

The distillery soon became a reality, with the Awads officially launching Winding Road Distilling Co. to the community late last year.

While their first batches of single malt whisky and Agricole-style rum are yet to mature, Winding Road's early releases, including their Citrus and Sea gin, Agricole Blanc Virgin Cane Spirit (made with fresh juice from locally grown and harvested sugar cane), and 50 Mile Coffee Liqueur (made with coffee beans from local growers Zentvelds) are already creating a buzz, making their way into local bottle shops, the Eltham Pub and restaurants like Fleet at Brunswick Heads and Shelter at Lennox.

Mr Awad says distilling can be both creative and formulaic, but the beauty of being small is you can experiment with ingredients and techniques, and produce something unique.

"We're not looking to maximise yields or crank things out, we just want to produce the best spirits we possibly can," he said.

Having clearly outgrown their garage, Mark and Camille have purchased a larger property at Tintenbar where they have plans to set up a stand-alone distillery, grow more of their own ingredients, and eventually offer a small cellar door experience.

"Winding Road isn't just a name or brand, for us it's the way we've lived our life together."

"We've never taken the straight and narrow or easy path, we've always gone down that windy road and we never know what's around that next bend."

BACK IN BUSINESS: Seven Mile Brewing Co owner, Matt Wilson, returns to full scale brewing

BACK IN BUSINESS: Seven Mile Brewing Co owner, Matt Wilson, returns to full scale brewing

Seven Mile

Nine tasty beers are on the menu as Seven Mile Brewing Co at Ballina prepares for one of its busiest periods since opening in 2018.

Co-owner Matt Wilson was originally a technology journalist who developed a passion for pale ale beers during a stint in the United States a decade ago.

He saw an opportunity to launch a family business with his father Lou Wilson when he moved back to the region.

"We've got four core beers with our Cali Cream, Brunswick Classic, American Pale Ale and West Coast IPA," Mr Wilson said.

"Outside of that we have limited release seasonal type beers every couple of weeks with about 10 beers available on tap at any one time."

The business adapted into producing hand sanitiser during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Its been a crazy year, like everyone we experienced some hardships during COVID-19 where we lost about 90 per cent of our keg trade overnight," he said.

"That forced us into doing a lot more can trade around the region. The positive from that coming into summer is that the can trade has stayed consistent and now the pubs are back, we're in a position where we can't make enough beer.

"We have six full-time staff with a couple of casuals which is double what we had this time last year."

NORTH COAST LIQUID GOLD: Eddie Brook at Cape Byron Distillery looks forward to bringing their premium single malt whiskey to the market.

NORTH COAST LIQUID GOLD: Eddie Brook at Cape Byron Distillery looks forward to bringing their premium single malt whiskey to the market.

The Cape Byron Distillery

The COVID lockdown all seems like a dream now for Eddie Brook. Half of Cape Byron's Distillery's business was wrapped up in the hotels and bars that sold their products and that just ended overnight.

"Looking at losing 45 per cent of your business is a pretty scary prospect. We had to adapt pretty quickly, " Mr Brook said.

Thankfully, as producers of high quality alcohol, they were able to produce a hand-sanitiser, and the local market including schools, hospitals and care homes, could not get enough of it.

"It took us nine days to get it to the shelves and for about a month, our Brookies hand-sanitiser was all we made. It was an interesting challenge. Pretty crazy," Mr Brook said.

Since then, the distillery is slowly getting back to their primary products and, thankfully, with new distribution networks, the retail market is even stronger, he says. The cellar door has been packed out.

The Cape Byron Distillery is nestled in Byron's hinterland on a farm Eddie's parents, Pam and Martin bought 30 years ago. Since then they have regenerated and replanted over 35,000 subtropical rainforest trees, creating an oasis for native animals and birds. It is these native flavours that characterise their gin.

And now, assisted by Stone & Wood, there are new products in development, Mr Brook said. One is a premium single malt whiskey, that will have been American oak-barreled two years, and will be released next April. The other is a mystery distillation, borne of the companies' collective COVID experiences, soon to be announced.

This story 'We just can't brew enough beer at the moment' first appeared on Northern Rivers Review.