Monday, February 15, 2010

Local Profile: Ralph Bungard, Brewer-Three Boys Brewery

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Ralph Bungard is the owner and brewer of Three Boys Brewery, a growing craft beer company based in Christchurch. I recently met up with Ralph and had a fascinating conversation with him about his craft and motivation to start Three Boys Brewery. Here's what I discovered:
  • What motivated you to get into brewing beer and starting Three Boys? I started out studying wine and horticultural science at uni, with the hopes of getting into wine making and viticulture. Instead I ended up a scientist and university lecturer of plant chemistry and physiology. I really became enthusiastic about beer while living and working in the UK years ago, due to the amazing range and varieties of beer in that part of the world. Upon coming back to NZ, I started thinking about starting a brewery while continuing work as a university lecturer at Canterbury University. I started collecting bits and pieces, volunteered with some breweries around town (including Harringtons) and really started diving into micro-brewing and recipe development. I began doing three boys full time in 2006, first in a smaller premises in Woolston’s Industrial Area, and then moved into the current building in the same area 2 years ago. The Twisted Hop was the first bar in town to start carrying Three Boys beers, as well as Canterbury University’s events facility and staff club (which Ralph notes probably has the best craft beer range on tap anywhere on the South Island). I’m pretty much the brewer, manager, and wear a lot of hats. But I do get part time help to come in to help out with the workload at times, like young brew lovers interested in learning the craft. I just recently had two travelers helping that were on a one year visa from Mexico, which was great, and fun for them because they were learning a bit as well.
  • What do you enjoy most about your work? The process of making a product – taking primary ingredients, like malt and hops, and ending up creating something so different. I grew up on a farm, so I have a great sense of respect for taking these types of primary ingredients, and the process of grinding up the malt, adding the hops, and boiling it. I enjoy the physical nature of the work. I believe some men need something physical, either in work or a hobby, to keep their life in balance. I also like the fact that I come across a variety of people in my daily work - from farmers, suppliers, serviceman, and the community of artists, innovators, and entrepreneurs in the Woolston Industrial Area - such as sculptor Andrew Drummond, the bakery beside us called Breads of the World, cutting edge clothing companies Kathmandu and Skinz, as well as more modern cafes servicing this community like The Coffee Workshop on Cumnor Terrace. It’s an interesting area in a stage of rebirth.
  • How long does it take to brew the beer, from the very start to the finished product? It depends on the style of beer. A wheat beer will take about 3 weeks, the ales about 4 weeks, and pilsners take about 2 months.
  • Where do your ingredients come from? Almost all of the malt is grown in Canterbury, apart from a little bit that is a special roast from overseas to give some styles a different color. But 90% comes from a small business down the road that grows the barley and then malts it. It’s a relatively new business that can stay afloat partially because of our business. The hops come from two long established suppliers in Nelson and Motueka. Then of course, we have great water in Canterbury, which is an important aspect. There is no chlorine in the water, so nothing to remove. No need to treat it in anyway. This kind of untreated groundwater, that has natural sulphates and calcium, makes great brewing water…and that’s what we naturally have here in Canterbury. So Canterbury really is a perfect region for brewing beer, since we are so close to the essential ingredients - we have good malt and good water. In fact, this is the reason that the Canterbury region had several good micro-breweries before the big breweries took over in the ‘60’s and ‘70’s.
  • Which is your favorite beer at present? I love all of the styles, so it depends on the day. On a hot summer’s day, it’s hard to beat a wheat beer. On a wintry day, I enjoy having the Oyster Stout, which is a seasonal brew. In fact, the Oyster Stout is one of our most popular beers and an interesting style. It is one of the three traditional kinds of stouts - milk, oatmeal, or oyster. In the olden days, stouts were thought to contain a lot of iron and nutritional properties, and thereby considered a “health drink”. Adding in oysters to stout became a common practice because of their high nutritional properties. While we now know a bit more about the true science and nutrition behind beer, the traditional tastes have stuck. In our case, we add bluff oysters to the boil, which gives the beer a hint of briny ‘seaside-iness’ that gets the taste buds working and goes really well with food.
  • When you aren’t at work, where are we likely to find you? When not at work or home, the other places I go are usually beer related. I enjoy a bar called Pomeroys because of their range of good craft beers, their good bar environment, and it is a place where the kids can come too for a fizzy drink. There are also several great cheap eats in the city that we go to with the kids, like Malaysian Delights or Osaka off of Gloucester Street. I also enjoy involvement with the cricket community here. I play, as well as the boys. Through this involvement, we get to meet and enjoy the company of other locals that we might not necessarily come across otherwise. We also like to get out of the city as a family, my wife and the boys, to camp, fish, and to be outdoors.
  • Fill in the blank - “I do this work, because at the end of the day I have something tangible that I have produced and that is a good product that I can enjoy."
Beers from Three Boys Brewery are available throughout New Zealand. Christchurch locations include The Twisted Hop, Pomeroys, The Village Grape in Sumner, The Grape Escape on Centaurus Rd, Franks Liquor in Ilam, and Merivale Fresh Choice.

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  1. I finally tried the Golden over the weekend, it was devine!

  2. Best beers in New Zealand? Three Boys range, Emersons range and Nelson's Foundry Organic Range. Three Boys rocks! Uncle Vern