After opening our new brewery in Murwillumbah in June last year we thought we would be able to meet the natural demand for our beer. Having expanded the fermentation capacity three times whilst we were building it we thought we had a great chance of getting ahead of things and would be in a good place to cope with the extra volume required to quench everyone’s thirsts over summer.
Sadly we were mistaken. Once again the demand over summer has surprised us and we knew back in October last year that it would be a struggle to get through the Christmas period. So once again we find ourselves having to apologise to people for not being able to find our beer. It’s not something we enjoy doing and there is a genuine sense of frustration across the Stone & Wood team when we can’t satisfy our customers and our drinkers. But brewing more beer isn’t as easy as just turning a magic tap on faster, it requires a big investment in equipment and people.
So at the start of summer we pushed the button on another expansion which will entail the installation of a second brewhouse and more fermentation tanks in the Murwillumbah brewery. The brewhouse has arrived and is currently being installed alongside the existing one. This will give us two 50hL (5,000 litre) brewhouses that will operate in tandem to fill the larger fermenters that will arrive in a month or so. Importantly the new brewhouse is identical to our existing brewhouse with very little automation which helps us stay true to our handcrafted approach of making sure that our beer is brewed by a person and not a piece of software.
Sure we could have just installed a much bigger brewhouse (maybe double the size) when we first built the brewery, but that would have meant a fully automated system and would have cost far more than the two we now have. We had always planned to install the second brewhouse when we needed to and as recently as June last year we thought that might have been three years away.
So we are building more capacity, but are doing it in a way that keeps us true to our values and although we still may not be able to meet all the demand for our beer we will have to become comfortable with that.
We could have built a much bigger brewery but that comes with challenges around how you fund it. We would have had to either put ourselves into a huge amount of debt (our current debt is big enough!) or sell down our ownership in the brewery to fund it. Neither of those things appealed to us.
From conversations with people about our challenges, some people find it strange that we would forego sales and revenue by not meeting demand, and suggest that getting our beer contract brewed would be the way to go.
At the end of the day you make decisions in life based on what drives you, and we are firmly guided by our values, not by the size of our revenue. We’ve spoken openly in the past about making sure we brew all the beer we sell, and the investment in the new brewery being about an investment in our local community, and providing local jobs.
Rapid growth can also have a real negative impact on the team and there is no need to put undue pressure on your team mates and burning them out just for the sake of growth.
As a team we are proudly independent and that comes with an understanding that you reduce your reliance on others. If you are truly independent, how can you be dependent on someone else to brew your beer?
But what’s right for us, doesn’t necessarily mean it’s right for everyone else, so we are happy for other brewers to choose their own path.
At Stone & Wood we believe in taking it slow and keeping it simple, so our growth will be slow and deliberate. We will learn to live with the frustration of people not being able to get our beer. We might get close to meeting the natural demand for our beer or we may not, but we will grow in a way that’s right for us.
The Stone & Wood Team
P.S. If you are having trouble finding our beer, please feel free to drop us an email, message us on social, or call us. The team are more than happy to point you in the direction of the nearest stockist to your place.