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.

The 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.


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