Three Sisters founder Joe Emans has philosophy that fits a microbrewery still learning and growing a (mash) tonne: inspiration, experimentation, feedback, agility.

Good inspiration will produce interesting experimentation, public demand coupled with feedback will let you know whether you have winners or losers, and staying open to that feedback allows for agility that will lead to success in the industry. Emans is aware the barriers for upstarts in the brewing industry are still relatively low, and if you want to be an integral part of the larger craft beer ecosystem, you have to be able to adapt.

After starting in the basement of Joe and Sarah Emans’ home in Oakura, Three Sisters’ ride from a hobby to the title of Champion Microbrewery has already showcased an ability to experiment and adapt. They opened an unusually crowdfunded microbrewery in central New Plymouth on the basis that punters were basically pre-paying for drinks.

Hyper-local crowd-funding behind Three Sisters

Inspiration is fickle and can strike at any time, but for Emans it most often comes from imagery. Many of his beers have started with a simple inspirational image that would become the label for the beer.

craft beer version 3.0The inspiration for this year’s gold medal winning Roses and Rivets Rye IPA, for example, came from Sarah’s desire to put the famous Rosie The Riveter image on a beer. Joe’s beer fits the image perfectly; it has a lovely rosy hue, and the nose is fruity and floral. The all-Gladfield grain bill features a healthy dose of crystal and rye malts that impart great mouthfeel, complexity and the whopping 8.4 per cent ABV lets you know it is strong. Loads of CryoPop hops really make this Rye IPA pop, and it’s clear that Emans really did the image justice with this beer. Although Emans was initially unsure as to what category he would enter the beer into, he had a gut feeling that it would be a good candidate to medal. The beer is in high demand at the brewpub and is often sold out by the end of each week.

Power of good artwork

Imagery is undeniably powerful, and the many of Three Sisters beers  have featured fun, interesting artwork on the label. Past and present labels line the brewpub, adding flare to the space. Sometimes a friend will make art specifically for a label, other times Emans has found an image he likes and has contacted the artist about using it. The going rate for using art for a label is reportedly one to four cases of beer. Emans shipped four cases of the Sup-bro Hazy IPA to an artist in Seattle for the image featured on its label.

Experimentation is key to Emans’ brewing philosophy. Although he really enjoys nailing a specific beer style (like the Hot Rod Rauchbier, which has been the most consistently medaled beer among the Three Sisters lineup), he says the more experimental beers with interesting flavor combinations tend to be best sellers at the pub. The ‘Soor Plooms’ line-up is a good example of this; Soor Plooms #5 is a banana and mango smoothie sour, while #4 was a rhubarb and custard pastry sour (is your mouth watering yet?).

While the Brewers Guild trophies are positive feedback and validation that Emans is making good beers he’s also is in no hurry to grow, although he realises that at some point he may need extra space to brew in, if demand increases. But the pub will always be the place where he can experiment with small batches, new and interesting flavour combinations — where he can keep things fresh and stay agile.

If or when the demand requires more equipment, Emans says he will cross that bridge when it happens, but until then, he will keep his eyes wide for inspiration, ears open for feedback, and on his toes for agility.


Craft Beer Version 3.0 — What’s The Future

I was in my local coffee spot buying beans when a friend stopped to say gidday. “What’s new in craft beer?” he asked. When I paused for just a moment, he replied for me: “Nothing, right?” One thing craft beer has always done is change things. Its early ethos was...

The Beer Project Summer Roadie

The Beer Project was conceived in July 2009 as a two-year project to document the 50-odd breweries in New Zealand. Obviously, I missed my deadline, not photographing my 50th brewery, Mata, until 2017. And now, the number of breweries has risen to over 200, which at my...

Two Thumb Green Bullet Fresh Hop English IPA

For as much as I’m a champion of fresh hop beers, I’ll be the first to admit they tend to fall into a pretty staid and narrow group of styles.  There’s always good ones and bad ones, but the field itself is typically composed of modern IPAs and pilsners sporting fresh...

Double Vision’s Fresh Hop Triple Treat

Double Vision Brewing are taking fresh hop season to a new level, with a triple treat of collectible, glow-in-the-dark cans, designed to be drunk in a specific order and preferably while reading the companion comic strip. In recent years, DVB have two produced two...

Brothers Beer Gamma Daydream

Fresh hop season is upon us, and with it, Fresh Hop Watch 2024 begins… Feedback from Nelson indicates an exceptional growing season, so I’m expecting big things from this year's releases.  While the best fresh hop beers tend to appear toward the end of the season, the...

Southfarthing Girdly Fine Grain Amber Ale

I was recently brought back a souvenir from a trip to Hobbiton, and uniquely amongst souvenirs, this one was perfect.  A bottle from the range of beers (and ciders) served at that living monument to the Lord of the Rings movie, and crafted to evoke the same quaintly...