It’s not quite the outhouse to the penthouse, but Taranaki brewery Three Sisters is moving from the basement to the bank thanks to an unusual hyper-local crowdfunding campaign.
Joe Emans and his wife Sarah started the brewery three years ago in the basement of their house located near the popular surf beach Oakura, south of New Plymouth. The name comes from the fact they have three daughters and is also a nod to a popular Taranaki attraction – a set of coastal rocks known as The Three Sisters.
Emans, a mechanical engineer who has just quit his day job, produced award-winning beer on a tiny 600-litre brewery under his house but hated the cleaning aspect.
“The main difficulty was not having floor drains and because you can’t spray everything down, so keeping on top of cleaning was horrible, a nightmare scenario, and that was part of my drive to get out of the basement,” Emans explained.
Emans had an opportunity to build a brewpub in a new local development but that was thwarted because the proximity of a kindergarten meant he couldn’t get a liquor licence.
“By the time we learned about that I was quite invested in making a move – so I started looking for other places.”
That’s when he found the old Taranaki Savings Bank building in New Plymouth.
“Wowed” by the architecture, Emans set about crowdfunding to develop the site into a brewpub.
In stark contrast to recent multi-million dollar equity raises undertaken by Parrotdog and Behemoth, Three Sisters wanted just $30,000.
And the way they went about getting their funding was as unusual as it was humble.
There were four gold opportunities to “name” fermenters. For $2,400 each, pledgers got to put their name on a fermenter as well as getting a $2,400 bar tab and a 10 per cent discount for life.
There were similar pay-now drink-later pledges set at $1,200 and $600 – for bar tabs of the same amount – as well as other perks such as getting a dedicated Spiegelau glass engraved with your name that sits behind the bar.
The brewery easily passed its $30,000 target and officially raised $41,335 but Emans said other people had since come to him wanting to “pre-pay” for beer and their true fundraising is closer to $45,000.
Naturally, the bulk of the pledgers are locals.
“That local audience was the primary motivation, and it works out well from a number of angles. We get that cash advance, but it also engages the local community. It gives people a little more ownership of bar.”
Emans was happy to aim for a modest amount of cash. Because he didn’t need to invest heavily in new stainless steel, the money is being used mainly for the bar and kitchen fit-out.
“We weren’t offering equity – we were only pre-selling beers – so we were realistic on what people were willing to spend before the bar opened.
“There were a lot of people who wanted to buy shares and invest more significant figures but we felt we didn’t need to go there at this point.”
The local crowdfunding exercise has had other positive spinoffs, including increasing demand for Three Sisters kegs from other Taranaki bars.
He will move his two 300-litre fermenters to the new site and has bought two new 600-litre fermenters. Over time he will swap out the 300s for 600s.
As for the names on the fermenters? Well, there’s “Reg” and “Ernie” but there’s also “Kaitake FC” and “Ben & Charlie’s Bellend”.
Kaitake FC is the local football club which Three Sisters sponsored this year – and they are now returning the favour. Ben Tarrant and Charlie Brown are Emans’ original homebrewing partners – and Bellend was the name of their brewery when they started out on a 50-litre Braumeister.
“I started saying we should go bigger but Ben and Charlie were both busy with family and work and three people working on a 50-litre kit didn’t make any sense. Also, they weren’t into as much as I was so I took it over and rebranded it.”