When a trio of twenty-something friends from Rio de Janeiro decided to found their own brewery in 2013, they already shared a passion for Belgian beer. They were familiar with the style because of their experiences living and traveling abroad, and from visiting Rio’s local pubs to taste as many labels as they could find—which, at the time, were few.
They decided to name the brewery Three Monks, in homage to those monastics who helped spread brewing culture in Belgium. But during a brewing class the trio attended in the lush neighborhood of Joá, an epiphany came in the form of a troop of monkeys—very common to Rio’s landscapes—that came in their direction during a break. Instead of Three Monks, the name should be Three Monkeys: a way to tropicalize their ideas, to connect their city to distant Belgium, an original approach to beer world.
The first beer they created already followed this path: a golden ale with Carioca (related to Rio de Janeiro) soul. “It wasn't so alcoholic and sweet, it had some residual bitterness to balance the flavors and make it fresher,” explains Bernardo Costa e Silva, the brewmaster of Three Monkeys. The beer was an instant success: “We sold everything we produced within days,” he says.
The positive response they received from customers was the push they needed to take the idea seriously. During the process, the three partners had to rethink their business plan many times due to unexpected growth. “It took us a year to start a business, find a brewery where we could produce, look for the best places to distribute it,” adds Leonardo Gil, one of the Three Monkeys founders. Six years later, the brand has expanded significantly: It has now five partners, produces more than 15,000 liters per month, and has become a mainstay of the Brazilian beer scene.
Three Monkeys also produced massive buzz when it participated in the most recent edition of Mondial de la Bière, one of the largest beer festivals in Latin America, which took place in Rio last September and drew more than 50,000 attendees over three days. In addition to being one of the most crowded stands visited by avid drinkers waiting in line to take a sip some of the 17 creations it made especially for the event, the brewery generated a lot of press coverage with its unusual and exotic labels.
Three Monkeys’ gose line, for example, included recipes with mustard, soy sauce, and curry. One of them, Gazpacho, was made with tomato and cucumber pickles to taste like the famous Spanish cold soup, while Al Mare was developed with oysters, squid ink, and lemon.
The brewery has also produced a white IPA, unprecedented in Brazil five years ago, mixing a witbier with an IPA made with Citra hops to enhance the citrus flavors even more. “From the beginning we have never limited ourselves. We have made beers with popcorn, stroopwafel, and salted caramel. Our motto is to push the boundaries and show why beer is one of the most democratic and versatile beverages out there,” Costa e Silva says.
He adds that the Three Monkeys team aims to bring a culinary approach to beer world by thinking of each label as a “detailed dish,” “For me, each ingredient makes sense in the whole recipe,” he says. With the encouragement of his partners, who give him free rein, Costa e Silva has been developing the Gourmet series, of which the Gose line is part. He is now considering the idea of joining forces with chefs, taking the idea of collaborations in beer to other fields.
Leonardo Gil says that the brewery’s bold recipes work because they aim to make beers that people like, that bring friends together, that make them fraternize above all. “We can make exotic recipes, of course, but as long as they're good to drink. We want people to try our beers and feel happy about it,” he says.
So far, Three Monkeys has created more than 70 different beers, but only four of them are part of the permanent portfolio: their famous golden ale, an American lager, a white IPA, and an American IPA. “We have a more commercial line, which is to get people into the world of craft beer, with easier recipes, more drinkability; and our high-end beers that we can please experts and other beer aficionados.”
Gil explains that this daring approach has had a positive effect: Three Monkeys’ clients are very loyal and follow the brand at tastings and events they organize. Like some American breweries, for example, they decided to create their own music and beer festival, Brewing Friends Festival, to invite other breweries and strengthen social bonds through beer. “We always wanted to make beers from friends to friends," he says. "This is in our DNA, that's how we started, and how we want to continue our story."