When the New Zealand Beer Awards ceremony kicked off with its traditional shambolic charm, I was lucky enough to be at the Christchurch hub (hosted by Two Thumb in their incredible new Colombo St venue).

Ralph Bungard and the Three Boys team took the stage twice.  First, to receive the trophy for International Lager, and then to take the coveted Champion Exhibitor prize.

The atmosphere throughout the evening was one of growing jubilation as not just Christchurch brewers, but ones throughout the South Island, surged across the list of medal-winners.  Altitude in Queenstown took two trophies, while one each went to Emerson’s and Nelson’s Brood Fermentation. Christchurch’s Beer Baroness had a 100 per cent strike rate of 13 medals from 13 entries.

When Three Boys took the Champion Exhibitor crown it was the culmination of something special and as the unanimous cheers rocked the building it really felt like a win for the whole city.  

The next day I caught up with Ralph (no worse for wear) at the brewery to get his take on the team’s incredible achievement, and the beers that got them there.

ralph bungard of three biys
Ralph Bungard of Three Boys

“Getting any medal at the New Zealand Beer Awards is a real treat.  We entered 13 beers and picked up 12 medals, so we were pretty chuffed with that hit rate.”

Three golds for Prunus Stave, Belgian Blonde and Lager, were complimented by silvers for Pilsner, APA, Oyster Stout (and the imperial version), Gose, a lower ABV hazy, Easy Juice and Dark Stave. 

That broad spread of medals is key to achieving Champion Exhibitor, and it shows just how strong and consistent the Three Boys range has become.  It’s that consistency, and the gradual but unstoppable rise in quality that I’ve noticed most as a consumer.  What’s even more remarkable, as Ralph reminded me, is that even as Christchurch’s star continues to rise — and we’re still a city of completely independent brewers. 

The array of awards and medals won by Three Boys

“It really seems that the big multi-nationals can’t get a foothold in Ōtautahi while the city maintains a large collection of smaller indie brewers which include some of the longest-running, Wigram and Three Boys, and one of the biggest, Cassels. 

“Ōtautahi looks these days like Aotearoa’s independent brewing fortress. Perhaps it deserves the title of Aotearoa’s indie brewing capital, but I guess it’s not really embedded in the city’s nature to blow its own trumpet to that extent.  Ōtautahi doesn’t fly under the radar when it comes to independent brewing — it flies over it!”

I think that sentiment is key.  At some point, as a beer community, we stopped coveting the idea of ‘rockstar’ brewing that goes on up north, and just got on with enjoying our beer for its own qualities.  We still have a way to go when it comes to changing the long-embedded perception of “boring” Christchurch beer, but with Three Boys and our greater brewing community continuing to make headlines at the awards, that day seems closer than ever.