Brew in Hawai`i
By Tim Ryan
Brewmasters have a lot of things in common besides their appreciation for beer.
Most of the Hawai`i brewers who make “craft” beer—think very low volume compared to the big boys—at some of the eight craft breweries on Kaua`i, O`ahu, Maui and the Big Island started making beer at home because, pragmatically, it was cheaper than store-bought beer, they could make more of it at home and the result eventually tasted a whole lot better.
Part of home brewing usually included experimenting with flavors.
“First of all, with any beer style there are no hard rules,” said Greg Yount, brewer at Brew Moon’s Honolulu restaurant in Ward Centre. “Variations within styles are expected concerning flavor, ingredients and methods of brewing.
“We each have our own interpretation of what we consider appropriate for the style and you go for that.”
In Hawai`i that means at least a dash of something exotic to represent the tropics: Kona coffee, mango, honey, pineapple, passion fruit, among others.
All the brewers agree on what is perhaps the most important ingredient: water.
“Hawai`i has some of the finest, cleanest water in the world,” said Kona Brewing Company’s brewmaster Rich Tucciarone. “We’re thousands of miles from any urban pollution so there is no need to filter toxins from the water.”
Kona Brewing Company, whose main brewery is on the Big Island, is the largest craft brewery in Hawai`i, producing more than 11,000 barrels—22,000 kegs—of beer annually. The company has about eight beer products and five seasonal releases. Several are sold in stores throughout Hawai`i and parts of the mainland.
Kona Brewing Company partners with a Portland microbrewery to produce beer for the mainland market with the same recipes used in Hawai`i. Minerals are added to the water at the Portland brewery to replicate Kona water, Tucciarone said.
Kona Brewing Company introduced Pacific Golden Ale (now called BigWave Golden Ale) and Fire Rock Pale Ale to Hawai`i in bottles and kegs in 1995. Longboard Island Lager was added three years later. Since then 10 other styles of beer are brewed on a regular basis and served at the company’s two Hawai`i pubs—Kona and Hawai`i
Kai on O`ahu. These range in color from very blonde to black; in flavor from tangy to hoppy to roasty.
The company’s most unusual beer is its Limited Release Pipeline Porter that combines a rich and roasty craft Porter and 100 percent Hawaiian Kona Coffee from the Big Island’s Cornwell Estate. It’s available only from October toMarch throughout Hawai`i and select markets in the United States, Japan and China.
It used Maui sugar and Big Island ginger in some beers.
Tucciarone’s philosophy about specialty beers is that “first and foremost it must taste like beer with other ingredients as accent, complementary, never overwhelming.
“We try to err on the shy side,” he said.
Its three flagship beers are Longboard Island Lager, Fire Rock Pale Ale and the Limited Release beers.
Brew Moon’s Yount says the water’s mineral content contributes largely to the beer’s flavor.
“When a wide range of brewing waters is used, that translates into different styles of beers,” he said. “Hawai`i’s beer is very consistent in mineral content.”
Hawai`i water has a “fairly high” mineral content of sodium, calcium, some chlorides, Tucciarone said.
The Aloha State has more than a 150-year history of beer making.
Early Spanish settler in Honolulu Don Francisco de Paula Marin brewed beer at Hawai`i’s first full-scale brewery in 1854 when the Honolulu Brewery opened. Then came the National Brewery Company in Kalihi, which produced steam beer from 1888 to 1893. The Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co., Ltd., makers of Primo Beer, started production in 1901, and continued until the arrival of Prohibition. Other beer manufacturers included the makers of Royal Beer.
Hawai`i’s first real microbrewery was Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant opening in 1994 at the Aloha Tower Marketplace. The company also has mainland restaurant-breweries and distributes throughout the United States. Gordon Biersch’s main brewery is in Palo Alto, California.
Unlike solely Hawai`i-based breweries, Gordon Biersch’s beer sticks to its award-winning corporate recipes including a special yeast imported from Germany and not using any of the exotic flavors found at Hawai`i’s other craft breweries.
Brew Moon doesn’t use local flavors either. Its tasty Moon Berry Wheat Ale is made with an imported raspberry extract. Its most popular brews are the Big Bang Pale Ale and Orion’s Red Ale, Yount said.
When he joined Brew Moon six years ago Yount wanted to make the beers “more consistent and fuller” than they had been.
“They were pretty light-bodied before and I thought it was time for maybe a bit heavier beer,” he said.
It wasn’t long before Yount, who spent two years in Palau as a brewmaster, began experimenting with specialty styles. One of Yount’s favorites is Orion’s Red Ale, which has a distinctive creamy taste.
“I’ve done a chocolate Kona coffee oatmeal stout where we used pure Kona coffee and it was very well received,” Yount said. “Of course, it also had a 10 percent alcohol content…”
Hawai`i brewers get their barley from the United States, Canada and Germany; hops are grown in four other regions of the world.
Brew Moon’s beer only is available at its restaurant, though kegs are sold from here as well. The brewery produces just 600 barrels a year.
The immense popularity of craft beer is simple, Yount and Tucciarone agreed. “Americans didn’t have the opportunity to discover good beer for a long time,” Yount said. “We sort of were forced into doing the mass-produced beer thing.
“I think when a brewery gets to be a certain size it tends to change the quality and distinctiveness of he product.”
Maui Brewing Company’s brewery, set in the middle of Lahaina, is a forwardlooking business concerned about making quality, distinctive beer as well as helping the community and environmental issues. Owner Garrett Marrero, a former investment consultant, and his wife Melanie created the brewery in 2004 in a former Kahana brewpub. Tom Kerns, who grew up in Oregon wine country, is the brewer. This past April MBC began selling three of its beers in stores.
Like all of Hawai`i’s microbreweries, the company’s spent grain goes to local farms to feed livestock. The pubs’ used vegetable oil powers the company’s vehicles.
Kerns is especially proud that Maui Brewing Company’s brewpub lighting is all compact fluorescents. Photovoltaic solar cells to generate all the brewery’s electricity will be installed by end of summer, he said.
The company uses reusable cardboard boxes designed by Garrett.The company puts its beer in cans, not bottles. Since the cans’ interiors are coated with a waterbased liner, the beer never comes in contact with the metal so there’s no foul taste.
“Cans keep the quality of beer longer,” he said, “and cans can be recycled, get colder faster, are lighter than glass.” (Ball Canning, a local plant, createsMBC’s exclusive cans.
MBC’s award-winning brews, including its unique Coconut Porter, use Hawai`i ingredients including pineapple, rum and organicManoa O’hia lehua blossom honey.Maui Gold Summer Ale is brewed with Hawaiian honey, cane sugar and pineapple.
Kerns calls the Coconut Porter “a classic robust porter spiced with all-natural toasted coconut.” The beer is black in color and crowned with a creamy, dark tan head.
Maui Brewing Company’s signature beers are Bikini Blonde, a light Germanstyle lager; Big Swell IPA, an India pale ale; and the aforementioned Coconut Porter, made with toasted coconut.
In its first year MBC brewed 433 barrels. In 2008 the company expects to hit 5,000 barrels, Kerns said. The company currently has distribution to Japan and California. Hawaiian Airlines serves MBC’s Bikini Blonde Lager on all Transpacific, South Pacific and Asia bound flights.
Other Hawai`i craft breweries include Sam Choy’s Big Aloha Brewery on O`ahu,Mehana Brewing Company on the Big Island, andWaimea Brewing Company and Keoki Brewing Company on Kaua`i.