The man who created the most successful local craft beer of the past decade has been back on the tools. Stone & Wood co-founder Brad Rogers (pictured above) has been getting his hands dirty in the creation of a new farmhouse range of beers going under the Forest For The Trees banner.
The first release from the new arm of the Fermentum family of businesses is a saison spiced with a range of native ingredients. A stronger version of the beer is currently ageing in French oak barrels previously used for chardonnay and the plan is to make Forest For The Trees a home for farmhouse, wild and sour beer styles.
It's likely to be a warmly welcomed move from the man who conceived Pacific Ale with Stone & Wood co-founders Ross Jurisich and Jamie Cook at his home in Melbourne before the trio launched their business in Byron Bay – not least for Brad himself. He was in a serious car accident before suffering a stroke and has been on a steady comeback ever since.
"I'm energised," he says of the new project, which joins the likes of Stone & Wood, Fixation Brewing and Treehouse Cider within the Fermentum umbrella group launched in 2016.
"It's been something that's been ticking away since before my little 'distraction'," he adds, explaining that Forest For The Trees was put on hold while they focused on their many other projects, not least the construction of a new brewery home in Byron Bay and the opening of Fixation's brewpub, The Incubator, in Collingwood.
"Every year, we look at our business and drag people out and put them through a future leaders sort of course," he says. "We give them pretty much free rein and one idea that came up was pretty much this."
It was similar to an idea already bubbling away within the business and one that has allowed Brad to revisit his past.
He released one of the first commercially brewed saisons in Australia while at Matilda Bay in the early 2000s, where he was head brewer after the pioneering brewing company was moved to Victoria by CUB, before he launched Stone & Wood with fellow CUB alumni in late 2008.
The Barking Duck saison – inspired by the classic book on the style by Belgian brewer Yvan de Baets – went on to take out bronze at the World Beer Cup in the US in 2006. It was among a number of forward-thinking beers released under his tenure, including the highly hopped Alpha Pale Ale that took out Champion Australian Beer as recently as 2013 before fading, along with the rest of the Matilda Bay lineup, into Yak-obscured anonymity.
As for the new release – available in a short run of 750ml bottles – it's very much at the sprightlier end of the of broad saison spectrum: bright and pale golden and built upon a combination of French and Belgian saison yeasts. The spices were chosen to complement the yeasts' natural characters with "the big thing", according to Brad, the beer's "fluorescence".
"I personally think that people, when they're doing this sort of beer, can overcomplicate it and and you can taste the complication," he says. "We are trying to keep everything very simple; it's a style I'm very drawn to and so passionate about – I just love it!"
Prior to becoming a brewer, Brad was a winemaker and says this new project is, to an extent, bringing those worlds back together – not just because he's secured a stack of ex-chardonnay barrels from an old mate in the wine world, but also because you can draw clear parallels between the aromatic characteristics of such beers and those of some pinot gris and rieslings.
And, while nothing is set in stone, there's a chance the new brand's home will be a "shed" somewhere, possibly the Northern Rivers region, where they will ferment, age and blend beers brewed at their other breweries, rather than building an entire new brewery.
Having completed a series of launches for the new Saison across the country – and with Stone & Wood's tenth anniversary plus the opening of new venues in Byron Bay and Brisbane's Fortitude Valley all imminent – there's plenty to look forward to for a man who also headed judging for the Australian International Beer Awards and helped form the Independent Brewers Association (when it was the Craft Beer Industry Association) while building the most successful new brewery of the past ten years.
"I've not had so much fun in a brewery for a long time," he says.
Keep tabs on the progress of Forest For The Trees via the brewing company's website.