HAWAI‘I MAY BE BEST KNOWN FOR ITS WORLD-CLASS MAI TAIS, BUT DON’T BLINK—LOCALLY MADE CRAFT BEER IS RAPIDLY GROWING IN POPULARITY AND FINDING A PLACE FOR ITSELF IN THE MUGS OF LOCAL BEER AFICIONADOS.
“Within the last five years [the local beer scene has] really started exploding,” says Thomas Ray, partner at Square Barrels, a gastropub in downtown Honolulu. Ray points to 2015 as the year everything took off, with a number of local breweries as well as a handful of beer-oriented restaurants and bars opening within a few months of each other.
“We try to support the local indepen- dent breweries whenever possible,” Ray says about his beer menu, which has a balance of beer-geek-oriented selections—as well as some friendly, more approachable beers—and also features a large selection of locally made beers. He says that the focus on local products is not only good business sense, as supporting local businesses means that more money remains within the island economy, but the beers are good too—really good. “A bunch of them have won awards,” he says, noting the medaling successes of breweries such as Maui Brewing Company and Kohola Brewery at the Great American Beer Festival.
Looking to get started in local beers? Since Ray has a good overview of the local brewing scene, we asked him to share some of his favorite beers from around the state:
Starting with a space close to the University, this young establishment specializing in small-batch beers has made over 200 different styles over the past three years. The constantly changing experimental menu means it’s hard to generalize on what’s best, but Ray likes their sours, stouts and IPAs. You can try their beers at one of their three O‘ahu locations or at beer-focused bars and restaurants, such as Ray’s Square Barrels.
Try: Leahi New England IPA
WAIKIKI BREWING COMPANY
California-born Joe Lorenzen opened this brewery in the banquet space of a Cheeseburger Waikiki restaurant in 2015. The original location’s early success and a devoted customer base enabled him to quickly add a larger Kaka‘ako brewing facility and pub that also serves food and sells their lines of canned beers which are also available at local supermarkets.
Try: Blackstrap Molasses Porter, Skinny Jeans IPA
Ray says this Ka‘akako brew pub, which opened in 2014 and has a full-service restaurant as well as an on-site brewery, was one of the first in Honolulu to “really stick.” Owner Geoff Seideman and his wife Charmayne have since grown their capacity to brew 1,500 barrels a year, and now sell a variety of their canned beers in local stores.
Try: Coconut Hefeweizen
LANIKAI BREWING COMPANY
Co-owner Steve Haumschild, whose passion developed as an avid home- brewer, wrote the business plan for this brewery together with a classmate at the University of Hawai‘i’s Shidler College of Business. Lanikai Brewing opened its doors in 2015, and with their distinctive Hawai‘i’s selection of local brews is no longer few and far between.
Try: Route 70 Saison
MAUI BREWING COMPANY
Founded in 2005, this local heavyweight has since grown to be Hawai‘i’s largest craft brewery, with a brewery on Maui, four restaurants across the islands, a line of island-made sodas and widely avail- able beer. While they produce a wide range of beers, including recent collaborations with top mainland brewers, Ray tends to gravitate toward their lighter beers. “We live in a very warm climate,” he says. “You don’t want to slam a porter when it’s 85°F outside.”
Try: Bikini Blonde
This Maui-based brewery, which began as a dream of a trio of local homebrewers, opened in 2015, in what was the original Maui Brewing Company space.
Only one year later, their Lokahi Pilsner won a bronze award at the prestigious Great American Beer Festival in Denver. Their beer is available on-site at the brewery, or in 12-ounce cans across the islands.
Try: Red Sand Amber Ale
MEHANA BREWING COMPANY
Since 2009, this Hilo-based brewery has been owned by Dr. Paul DeMare, a Hono- lulu-based oncologist, but it has a long history of producing locally made drinks at their facility, which occupies the site of the Hilo Soda Works, which dates back to the 1920s. Today the brewery makes a line of canned beers that are available throughout the state.
Try: Hawaiian Crow Porter
There are other local breweries of note, such as Stewbum & Stonewell Brewing Co. (stewbumandstonewall.com), Big Island Brewhaus (bigislandbrewhaus.com), Kauai Beer (kauaibeer.com), Ola Brew (olabrewco.com), Aloha Beer Co. (alohabeer.com), Bent Tail Brewing, and the list continues to grow, with more small scale breweries slated to open in the coming months. Beer fans can only say cheers to that news!