Stone & Wood have committed to a long-term future within the Northern Rivers community of NSW by purchasing the site of their production facility and with plans to add capacity, sustainability attributes and a taproom to the Murwillumbah location.

Alongside the obvious benefits of adding a hospitality experience, the major drivers of the project are to streamline processes across the site after 10 years of growth to gain increases in efficiency, safety and quality. Stone & Wood said the Northern Rivers Brewery “will remain the engine room of Stone & Wood supply… and will continue to be the standard bearer of Pacific Ale”.

With planning and development approvals still to be finalised, it’s the brewery’s desire to see the taproom stage of the build begin at some point this year while four more 800 hectolitre bright tanks will arrive on site this August.

It’s not the plan the brewery’s former owners announced back in April 2021, yet Stone & Wood said the new direction has been fully endorsed by the founders, was roundly supported internally and that new owner Lion’s investment would be “a similar order of magnitude”.

It was initially planned that a proposed $50 million would be spent on an all-new brewery and venue on a parcel of land Stone & Wood had purchased in 2017 on Honeyeater Circuit, just down the road from the current production facility on Kite Crescent.

But speaking with Beer & Brewer, their head of supply chain Richard Crowe, who is also now the key Fermentum voice within Lion’s Australian leadership team, said they are going to get better bang for their buck by not going with a greenfield build. And he added that the Kite Crescent development more than satisfies the founders’ vision that a brewery build would ensure deep roots were established in the community.

“We will get much better technological investment for what we’re spending. It’s a similar order of magnitude of investment to what we (planned to do) at Honeyeater, but the site is already established, we have buildings, concrete et cetera, and we actually have a lot of affinity and love for this old site that we’ve nurtured,” Richard said.

“By investing in this region it really shows that we’re putting our roots down, not only for the team and for gainful employment for many years to come, but also for the local community, our suppliers and our neighbours – everything that comes with being a Northern Rivers brewery at our heart.”

An artist’s impression of Stone & Wood’s proposed plans for their Northern Rivers Brewery project.

The expansion will take the brewery’s current annual output from an estimated 17 million litres to as high as 30 million. But project engineer Amanda Druvaskalns said the investment wasn’t about growth per se, but more to do with streamlining operations and “raising the bar”, including the formation of a single large cellar, the addition of a yeast propagation plant and more sophisticated clean in place technology, to set the platform to springboard off for the future.

There will also be significant investments made in sustainability solutions as part of the project, with brewhouse energy and CO₂ recovery, waste reduction improvements and a larger recovered water reticulation capability top of the list.

“When the founders first looked at this site they went ‘it’s way, way too big’ and totally disregarded building the brewery here. But since then we’ve just continued to grow and grow and make extensions as they were required,” Amanda said.

“What that’s resulted in is a feeling of some things being kind of tacked on. But what the Northern Rivers Brewery is going to do is relocate some of those extensions so that it all works in a more streamlined way.

“And it will just help with work-flow and usability. We want to be able to make it more ordered, with more automation, and a safer place for people to work.”

Greenfield versus brownfield

Apart from the loss of the incredible outlook on Wollumbin (Mount Warning, pictured above) that the Honeyeater Circuit site would have offered both the hospitality experience and those who would work there, Stone & Wood say the decision to stay and develop the former Bunnings warehouse at Kite Crescent, that’s been a home for a decade, ticks every other box.

On a cultural level, a brownfield expansion means all the heart and soul poured into it can remain and evolve, in ways like the addition of the taproom where brewers will see their labours savoured first-hand. And the connection to the community that the taproom will offer will come about much sooner than it otherwise would have at Honeyeater.

And on a sustainability level, aside from the additional technologies planned for the expansion, Stone & Wood said the amount of landfill waste generated by dismantling the former site would have been “frightening”.

Richard added: “Post-sale, one of the key promises made (by Lion) was around this brewery build. In the context of being part of the Lion group, there still was very much a commitment to the brewery, but what did it look like?

“Did it make sense to do a fresh greenfield brewery at the Honeyeater site and with all that investment in piling, concreting, building just establishing it? You’re going to pump big numbers into that and prices are going up even as we speak.

“So the opportunity was there to reevaluate. The other point is we had access to capacity across the rest of the network and (Little Creatures) Geelong is supporting us with Pacific Ale for example.

“So whether we built down the road or here, the most important part of all of this is ‘are we an important part of Murwillumbah?’. Yes we are. And we’re also open for business with opening up the taproom and investing further in this brewery.”

Stone & Wood said they were keeping their “options open” in regards to how best to utilise the 34,000 square metres of land they own at Honeyeater Circuit.

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