Joe Emans hopes Rumours In The Dark starts a beer revolution — a move away from lean, pale and hoppy and towards dark and malty.

Three Sisters have been on a tear over the past three years capped by a magic week in May when they won Champion Small International Brewery at the Australian International Beer Awards just days after gaining their first Top 30 gong in the New World Beer & Cider Awards with their take on a Munchner Dunkel, a dark Munich lager but made with a twist — rye.

“We’re thrilled,” Emans said, “it’s been an ambition to get in the Top 30 so I’m really pleased about it. And the beer that did it, we’re really happy with that, as that’s the direction we’re going in — dark lager with rye.

“We’ve got a whole series of not just dark beers, but dark, rye lagers. We love lagers anyway and particularly dark ones. We’ve got a bock, red lager and a Baltic porter all coming out, and all brewed with rye.”

Emans said the exploration of this niche is not market-led, instead he hopes it will be the other way around.

“This is what we like brewing and it’s what we like drinking.  I guess it’s pursuing a labour of love. Sometimes you go in a direction and see if anyone follows, so we’re doing this and we hope people they like what we doing.”

The judges in Australaisia’s biggest competitions certainly like what they’re doing, with Rumours In The Dark picking up a gold medal at the New Zealand Beer Awards last year and another one at AIBA.

Three Sisters got four gold medals at AIBA for Rumours In The Dark, Tmave Pivo (dark lager), Wayward Son Fresh Hop Pale Ale, I Am Not Well (Barleywine) and added seven silver and nine bronze.

three sisters

England-born Emans isn’t sure if the influence of his German-born wife Sarah is at play with the dark lager fascination.

“Probably, subtly, in the background. We’re definitely big fans of German style beers and do our best to perfect those. Sarah’s not consciously telling me to brew them, but her influence must be there.

“And my love of rye might be partly Sarah’s influence as well because she’s into rye bread.”

Emans loves using rye not just for its well-known spice character, but also the red fruit notes that complement the amber and darker beers. “It just adds a richness to the beer — I think it’s great.”

Whether others will pick up on the trend remains to be seen, but Emans is convinced there’s a shift happening in Kiwis’ tastes.

“Public tastes shift in unpredictable ways but there definitely seems to be a move towards dark lagers, just from what we’re seeing. I think there’s a move away from hazies and hoppy beers towards malty beers — there’s an appreciation of malt instead of just hops because the balance had  shifted too far to the hoppy side of things.

“These kind of beers — lightly hopped, malty lagers — tend to be more sessionable,” he adds, referring not to the ABV but the fact they don’t wear out your palate like a series of heavily hopped beers might.

The Top 30 award caps a stellar run for Three Sisters, which was named New Zealand’s champion microbrewery in 2021 and champion Small Brewery last year.

It’s been rapid progress in the five years since Emans and his wife started the brewery in the basement of their house near the popular surf beach Oakura, south of New Plymouth, naming the brand for their three daughters and as well as a popular Taranaki attraction — a set of coastal rocks known as The Three Sisters.

Sarah and Joe celebrate their AIBA success
Sarah and Joe celebrate their AIBA success

Rumours In The Dark is one of the first batches of canned beer coming out of their brewpub located in the old New Plymouth Savings Bank (later TSB) building, with the brewery using a recent crowd-funding boost to buy a new canning machine from New Zealand manufacturer Zanz.

They also have some new tanks coming, which they hope will allow them to up production and take their beer to a wider audience.

Until now, their production runs have been too small to justify a supermarket presence.

On the back of the Top 30 spot, moving to cans, and increasing production Emans hopes a few regular beers will be available on shelves.

Their Fuzzy Panda Hazy IPA, Oakura Blonde and Rain In The Face APA are likely contenders for six-pack presence in supermarkets. The latter two were also highly commended in this year’s New World Beer & Cider Awards, while Oakura Blonde picke dup a silver at AIBA, which pleased Emans.

“We did Rain In The Face as a home brew before we started Three Sisters and Oakura Blonde was the first beer we did as Three Sisters and I’m pleased it’s come such a long way.”