Wednesday 27th November

The Artistry of Beer

From a wash house beneath the family home to a brewery on Ferry Road, Three Boys Brewery has become one of the most recognised craft breweries in Canterbury since it started selling beers 15 years ago.

Owner Ralph Bungard was a scientist working in the UK when he developed a love for the large variety of beers that were available there. “New Zealand, at that time [in the mid 90s] was diabolical [in terms of beer variety]. There were just a handful of microbreweries.”

He returned to New Zealand in 2001 and continued to work in science, all the while learning how to create beer out of primary ingredients and learning to use the equipment. He opened his first brewery on Garlands Road, next to a vegetable shop and a pet food factory. Three Boys started selling its core range of IPA, Pilsner, Wheat Beer and Porter at the end of 2004.

Named “Three Boys” after Ralph and his two sons, whom his wife and co-owner Brigid Casey called the ‘three boys’ in their home, the brewery’s earliest challenges included convincing people to try something new. “In the early days, it was hard enough to sell a hazy wheat beer. I had people tell me, ‘I bought your wheat beer but I think there’s something wrong with it because I poured it into a glass and there’s something in it.’ People are much more accepting of different things now.”

Many of Three Boys’ beers are a mix of traditional with a Kiwi twist, including their multi-award winning Oyster Stout made with Bluff oysters, wheat beer with lemon zest instead of the orange peel used in traditional the Belgian Hoegaarden recipe, and the award-winning Pineapple Lump Porter which was created especially for the themed festive beer category in the 2010 BrewNZ awards. “Every year, they have a theme and that year’s theme was New Zealand’s endemic ingredients. There were some amazing entries of smoked kumara beers, hangi beers, tamarillo – all sorts of amazing Kiwi beers. We thought, what’s really Kiwi? And we got pineapple lumps and put it into a porter, which already had a chocolatey taste and it worked really well.” The Pineapple Lump Porter won that category in the awards.

The competitiveness in the beer market drives a lot of the creativity behind their brews. “There’s not too much new in beer so you have to be incredibly inventive. You often come up with something but a ten second Google search will tell you somebody else has had a go at it before,” Ralph said.  Their newest brews include sour and hazy beers, including an unprocessed and unfiltered New England IPA, which he described as “super hazy and cloudy and full of flavours.”

Three Boys has been a staunch supporter of the arts in Christchurch for many years, including the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra, the Christchurch Art Gallery, and other independent artists and musicians.  “It’s a really good fit for us because of the way the arts in Christchurch is engaging with the public. It’s like making beer. You can make a crazy beer but if you’re not engaging with the public then it’s not viable. In the arts, you can have unapproachable art or music but you have to make it relevant to people. These two different industries are trying to remain viable in a competitive market to stay relevant and keep growing and it’s self-perpetuating because it becomes something really special if you do it right.”

With the renaissance of craft brewing around New Zealand, Three Boys’ main goal is to be Christchurch’s premium craft brewers. “We’re often asked, ‘When are you getting bigger?’ Hopefully the modern way of thinking is that bigger isn’t always better. Bigger is just bigger. If we can sell beers around the countries, that’s great, but our focus is on the locals, taking care of them and being a successful and sustainable business financially, socially and environmentally. We want to make sure people still recognise us as being unique and of good quality in the market and convince them to stick with something they trust.”

In 2019, Three Boys won 11 medals at the Brewers’ Guild of NZ Beer Awards with three gold medals, four silver and four bronze and was ranked one of the Top 30 at the New World Beer & Cider awards.

Three Boys Brewery is the Christchurch Symphony Orchestra’s Official Beer Sponsor.