Stone & Wood chooses low over no with East Point

Stone & Wood launched lower-alcohol core range beer East Point this week, and in true Stone & Wood fashion, the beer acknowledges the latest industry trends without conforming to them.

Head brewer Caolan Vaughan told the Beer is a Conversation podcast that the beer was a difficult one to brew, but they felt it was the perfect addition to the core range and balanced a number of consumer trends which have seen a resurgence in the “light beer” category, as well as low-calorie, sugar-free and gluten-free options.

“The beer has been one of the most challenging beers that we’ve ever tried to create. Low alcohol brings challenges,” explained Vaughan.

“Your average punter may not be as exploratory or looking for the biggest or boldest, they just want something that simply tastes good,” he said of the beer.

The Byron Bay brewery has not released an unseen core range beer since Cloud Catcher, with beer like The Gatherer ascending from their Counter Culture limited series.

“I’m quite excited about what this beer can do, and we do see it as a little bit of leading the way, in a way, like what Pacific Ale did.

“There are slightly tart, zesty, tangy beers out in the market, but we’ve really found an opportunity to see this thing grow too, hopefully, for the greater success of the business and, I almost think, the category, as well, of lower-alcohol beers.”

Listen to the full Beer is a Conversation podcast with Stone & Wood head brewer Caolan Vaughan.

Lifestyle trends

There are obvious challenges in making no or even low alcohol beer, but despite this, the category looks set to grow even further.

Whilst others have gone for completely no alcohol, East Point operates in the lower alcohol space at 2.7% abv and the move to lower rather than no alcohol was a very conscious decision on the part of Stone & Wood Vaughan said.

“This beer was always destined for low alcohol. This beer was not being developed around a non-alcohol beer market, which we do see as growing exponentially.

“I think it’s similar [to no alcohol trends], but we weren’t playing in that space, or intending to play necessarily in that non-alcohol beer market. We refer to it as the “better for you” space, health and wellbeing, lifestyle type beers. We basically saw a gap in the market with low alcohol.”

He said it was part of their attempts to create sessionable beers, fitting into a space in which easy drinking, low alcohol, and health and wellness trends converge.

“The mainstream low alcohol beers in the market are very different from what this beer is. We don’t play in the low alcohol lager end of the spectrum, but what we do is we nail incredibly approachable and sessionable beers,” he said of East Point.

“There’s a lot of growing energy around the non-alcohol beer market, there are a lot more health-conscious people looking for beers that suit their lifestyle, all those sorts of things. I happen to be lucky enough to be a parent, being able to have a couple of beers and still get up and be dad, super dad every day, all those sorts of things.

“We really think that low alcohol beer is a growth sector within the beer market because there are lots of people that love the lifestyle, they like delicious, full-flavoured beer but have responsibilities they want to drive, need to get up early to go do something with the family and not be inhibited by alcohol consumption.

“It’s really playing that “better for you” space with beer, beer being one of the most nutritious alcoholic beverages on the market, just in a much lower alcohol form. It’s almost the ultimate drink.

“We really do see this as a growth market, but also as a really sensible option for the alcohol industry. I think everyone sort of, you’ve got a duty of care and all those sorts of things to keep in mind.”

Go their own way

As with the development of Pacific Ale, which was launched at a time when American pale ales were a default style, Caolan said Stone & Wood has seen what’s going on in the wider industry and gone their own way.

Vaughan explained that East Point does not conform to an existing beer style per se, but drew from influences of many European-style beers.

“This beer doesn’t really have a definition,” he said.

“Everyone’s like, ‘what style of beer is it?’ It’s not really a style. I’d normally say that we’ve taken inspiration from a few different European styles of beer.”

But East Point is unlike its predecessors, European or otherwise, bringing in elements to make it a uniquely Australian beer, according to Vaughan.

“East Point is, I guess in terms of a sensory perspective, it’s got a really nice zesty tang.

“It does go through an acidification process that is very subtle, just to really enhance the nice refreshing, really nice level, salty balance.

“It’s definitely not salty but it has a nice little balance around that, giving it a nice impression of refreshment, little bit of salty sweetness to it almost, with really nice citrus characteristics.”

Vaughan said he used a fruity yeast strain.

“There’s a little bit of orange peel in there just to play on the citrus notes that you do get from lactobacillus, but all just remaining nice, refreshing.”

“There’s just a dash of hops in there, about 7 IBU of hops. It’s not crazy bitter, just very light, very approachable.”

The release is described in by the brewery as “a modern expression of the Australian low-alcohol beer.”

“It suits our lifestyle up here, it suits the weather, and there was definitely a gap in the market for a nice indie craft beer. It’s, I’m actually very, very, very happy with the way this beer’s turned out,” Vaughan explained.

“But it has been a challenge to try and get all those, almost somewhat uncontrollable flavour aspects. Getting the acidification right and balanced, getting a nice little hint of salt in there, it’s really inspired by where we’re from – the most easterly point in Australia, which is what we have there in Byron Bay.”

East Point will be available in four-packs of 375ml cans or cartons of 16 cans at bottle shops and venues around the country, as well as Stone & Wood’s Tasting Room in Byron Bay and its brewery in Brisbane.

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