Ross Jurisich, co-founder, Stone & Wood Brewing Company
Growing our business motivates us and also growing our communities and the people we work with ...
Quitting our jobs and moving to Byron Bay is a daydream many of us have had over time, though few of us ever follow through on such fantasies. Ross Jurisich, Jamie Cook and Brad Rogers decided to make the lifestyle switch in 2008, quitting their jobs at Carlton United Breweries to start their own craft beer operation, Stone & Wood. The Byron Bay-based company has gradually grown from a fledgling player in the craft beer market to a veritable powerhouse of its own – winning over our tastebuds and earning acclaim across Australia. Stone & Wood’s Pacific Ale recently took the number one spot in the GABS Hottest 100 craft beers list for the second time, so we though it would be a good time to chat to Ross about what it means to see the hard work, risks and stress pay off.
For those unfamiliar with the Stone & Wood story – tell me how you got into brewing?
Yeah, sure! Stone & Wood started when my two co-founders, Jamie Cook and Brad Rogers, and myself used to work at a larger brewery called Carlton United Breweries. We were all working together in different areas of the business, sale and distribution, marketing and production and one of the last things we did at C.U.B. was to re-invent what was Matilda Bay Brewing Company, which was a small brewery in the portfolio of CUB. It was pretty well defunct and not going anywhere but it had a couple of brands that were well loved. There was a new thing taking shape in Australia called craft beer and C.U.B. didn’t really have an answer to what Lion Nathan were doing with the malt shovel range of beers. We were given the job of re-birthing Matilda Bay Brewing Company and from that we learned a few things all the while thinking that the craft beer category had legs and growth – maybe there were some opportunities for doing it ourselves. We thought it was a good opportunity to exit and go an set up our own brewery in Byron Bay.
You started in 2008, correct?
Yeah, we took possession of 4 Boronia Place on the first of April, 2008 and then we had beer in the market – as in our first kegs were rolling out the gate – on the 28th of November, 2008. Before that there was two years of extensive planning, so even though we’ve had beer in the market for seven and a bit years, it’s nearly been a ten year project. So it’s been a while.
What was your mantra when it came to running the business in the beginning? Has is changed much with the growth of operations?
Well, there were a couple of themes to it. One was we wanted to have more control over our own personal destinies in a place we really enjoyed, a place that we knew that we could build a viable and sustainable business. It wasn’t anything that happened overnight – given our experience building brands we know that it’s not an immediate thing and that it takes time to build equity and brand recognition, so we were in it for the long haul. As long as we were all committed to the long term viability of it and we started as soon as possible, some time down the track it would be more sustainable and get us more quality of life. When we were looking for a place to do it – given that quality of life was important – we thought there was no greater place than Byron Bay. If it all went to shit we knew we were still in one of the most beautiful places anyway, so it couldn’t be all that bad.
When did you first notice that Stone & Wood was growing in popularity?
We had a very detailed business plan and we had certain milestones that we knew that if we hit we were going to continue to be on the right track long term. When you’re neck deep in your business you don’t get to see it from an outsiders perspective, so we just continued to beaver away at doing our thing – just head down, bum up and before you know it within three years we were breaking even. It took us three years to break even, and those three years were a long hard road. Getting to that point was a pretty nice milestone. From there, a little bit of the pressure was taken away and we could see some light at the end of the tunnel. We knew that we had something that was going to be sustainable for a long time if we stuck to our plan and continued to do what we were doing.
The brewery and the business has grown by leaps and bounds since 2008, did you imagine Stone & Wood would ever get to this level? Did you ever imagine it would get to this level of acclaim?
No, not really – we only ever set out to make great, consistent and approachable beer. Beers that leant themselves really well to our backyard and that is the type of beer that you can have a few of in one sitting. We don’t make beers that are incredibly complex or complicated. That was one of the other themes to us starting Stone & Wood, we didn’t want to make making beer complicated – it’s quite a simple process if you stick to basic rules. We had plenty of complexity in our former lives at C.U.B. and we just wanted to keep this really simple, fun and enjoyable and we achieved that through the simplicity. I think that’s held us in good stead over the years.
It’s certainly working out pretty well! Congratulations on taking out number one on the GABS Hottest 100 craft beers in Australia again – this is the second time you’ve topped the list?
Yeah I think it was four years ago that we cracked number one. That was pretty exciting for us back then and we’ve been the bridesmaid ever since. If I’m going to be straight up with you, I thought this year with so many new beers on the list that we would have dropped a peg or two. There are a lot of new beers on the market and a lot of people have had our product before and we thought we would have dropped a place – we are very pleasantly surprised.
How does it feel to be named the most popular craft beer in the country?
It’s great and it’s exciting. There is a lot of work that goes into it behind the scenes, though. The business has grown to over 70 full-time people and it’s more than just Jamie, Brad and myself doing it. There is a whole team of people in different areas bringing the whole thing together. The three of us cant take all the credit for that anymore – we’ve got a lot of good people that help make the whole thing happen.
In your opinion, what makes Stone & Wood great – beer and business wise?
Well as for the beer itself, it’s an uncomplicated, refreshing sthyle of beer. It’s consistent and we have invested heavily in quality aspects of our new brewery in Murwillumbah to ensure that the beer stays consistently good. I think that when people are out buying one of our beers they know what they are going to get. They don’t feel that they are taking a risk with the quality of it; it’s good each time they buy it. There is a lot that goes into being able to deliver that.
The values of Stone & Wood revolve around authenticity, quality, humility – we don’t take ourselves too seriously. We attract people with similar values and at the end of the day we are just making beer – we aren’t curing cancer or anything. We should give it the seriousness it deserves. Work should be a fun place, that’s what we would like to have when we go to work – a good, fun, enjoyable environment and that’s what we’ve created and we think that’s what the people that work with us come to expect.
Where do you see the company moving in the future? Do you have any big plans in the pipeline for 2016?
We’ll just continue to do our thing. Our focus is to be a great independent local brewer and we do a lot in our local community and local market where we’ve been rewarded with the loyalty of local drinkers. That’s what has provided us sustainable business. We’ve also developed a another beer company called Fixation Brewing Company that solely concentrates on a north-west American style of IPA – that’s going to be a bit of fun for us. We’ve also started a cider business called Granite Belt Cider Company where we source local fruit from Stanthorpe. We are continuing to tack things on – we like to build things and build brands and have a bit of fun along the way.
What keeps you motivated and inspired on a daily basis?
It’s pretty easy for me – it’s not a chore getting out of bed every day when you actually enjoy what you are doing. We don’t know how to do anything else aside from produce, market and distribute beer – that’s our thing. It’s lucky for us that we enjoy doing it. There is always something new that will pop up around the corner, something that will challenge us. Growing our business motivates us and also growing our communities and the people we work with. Fortunately for us we have a good work life blend, which is being able to tie the hobbies that you have into your work life. A lot of things that we support are things like surfing, music and the arts – we like to do all of those things and we like to integrate them within our business.
What are your words of wisdom?
I know it’s a cliché, but you have to enjoy what you are doing but don’t underestimate the relentless nature of business. It can’t be this thing that you jump into for six or 12 months and then go do something else. There is no overnight success so just be patient and have a really well documented plan. Have milestones in there that you can work to and make sure you are celebrating those milestones.
Head to the Stone & Wood website to keep track of the breweries news and to find your local stockist of the award-winning Pacific Ale.