Craft Brewery Movement on Oahu

Brewmasters tap into a new market

In the past decade, gastropubs have popped up across Hawaii, serving more craft brews that bear such obscure names as De La Senne Taras Boulba, Westmalle Dubbel, Rigor Mortis Abt and Dubbel Fisted. But now something new is brewing across the Islands, and brewmasters are eager to bring it your closest tap.

While here on vacation in 2001, Garrett Marrero saw a dearth of locally-brewed craft beer and seized the opportunity to fill a niche market. He established Maui Brewing Co. in 2004 and brewed his first batch of Indian Pale Ale shortly thereafter.

“Craft beers are the only segment of the beverage market that continues to grow,” says Marrero, who opened a new larger facility in Kihei, Maui. “When we first started, we produced 320 barrels, which is the equivalent of 640 kegs. Today, we produce in a day what we used to produce in a quarter. We can’t keep up with the demand.”

Craft beer production was up 9.6 percent in 2013, while overall beer production fell 1.4 percent, according to Technomic’s “2014 Special Trends in Adult Beverage Report: State of the Industry” report. And that continued popularity of specialty beers is paving the way for a new crop of beer makers. As a state, Hawaii ranked 30th for craft breweries per capita with nine, according to a 2012 report by the Brewers Association.

Located in Port Allen, “The World’s Westernmost Brewery” and the island’s only brewpub, Kauai Island Brewery & Grill embraces the craft beer movement. Brewmaster Dave Curry produces 10 handcrafted in-house beers in large stainless steel vats, with the Captain Cook’s IPA being among the most popular.

Kauai Brewing offers a variety of craft beer styles. (©Linny Morris)

“Being on Kaua‘i here, we try to come up with something a little bit unique,” Curry says. “One of the bartenders said his aunty has a taro farm and said why don’t you put some taro in the beer and see what happens. We brewed it twice and it has been a success. We’ll probably keep doing the taro on a regular basis.”

Beer is now also flowing from taps at Honolulu Beerworks where owner Geoff Seideman produces a dozen craft beers, including Sheltered Bay IPA, South Shore Stout, Kewalos Cream Ale and Makakilo Brown. Each one has its corresponding ABV (alcohol by volume) and IBU (International Bittering Units scale, or simply IBU) numbers.

Choose one of the flatbreads with Honolulu Beerworks' craft beers. (Courtesy Honolulu Beerworks)

Glen Tomlinson added a beverage component to his Home of the Brave Hawaii Military Base Tours in 2010, taking guests on jaunts that detail the history of beer in Hawaii, and leading them on a visit of the brewery and the company’s museum. The “brewseum” features a 50-seat dining area that’s decorated as a beer hall and offers craft beers from Maui Brewing and Kona Brewing. Tomlinson says he plans to produce his own Home of the Brave beer.

Since opening REAL, a gastropub and BREW'd craft pub, Troy Terorotua has helped shift the beer-guzzling paradigm, tapping into ales and lagers that are to be savored and sipped, and not “thrown back” or “shotgunned.”

Troy Terorotua
Troy Terorotua believes in educating people about the craft beer movement. (©Simplicio Paragas)

“It’s about educating the public about craft beers,” Terorotua says. “Once a month our staff members have a training session to learn about the different styles of beer and the brewing process. We’re a beer-centric place.”

At SALT, Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room prides itself as "the first dedicated craft beer bottle shop and beer cafe in the state of Hawaii." With more than 500 meticulously curated beers in bottles and cans that can be purchased for consumption on site or purchased for takeaway and 16 constantly rotating taps, the tasting room is a beer geek's nirvana.

Other craft brewers that have popped up over recent years include Waikiki Brewing Company, Palolo Valley Brewing Company, Lanikai Brewing in Kailua, Big Island Brewhaus, and the list goes on. Many of these breweries have the full bar and food selections at their locations. Even large chains like Whole Foods is tapping into the market, with craft beer bars now at both their Kailua and Kahala stores in Honolulu.

It’s indeed a great time to be a beer drinker in Hawaii.