Over the last few days, I have struggled for a way to start an article about my trip to Maui. Do I talk about the intense tan color of the sand and the vivid blues and greens of the Pacific? Do I paint a picture of the landscapes: the beautifully fiery sunsets, the marbled rolling oceans, or the scenic drives through sugar cane and pineapple fields? It seems like every other article does that and you don’t need to read any more of that…
So, let’s just talk about beer, shall we?
On the mainland we take our beer for granted. We can walk into any store and find a mixture of different varieties of craft beer – true craft beer: beer that is brewed using local ingredients, filled with the metaphorical blood, sweat and tears of the people who craft it. There is so much opportunity that it seems like an embarrassment of riches. But Hawaii is a different beast altogether
Sitting almost 3,000 miles off the West Coast, Hawaii is “out in the middle of nowhere” as one resident said. With that distance, sourcing local hops, barleys and yeasts can be not only difficult but in some instances, it can be damn near impossible. For example, hops need a dormant season, so growing them in the warm climate of Maui just wouldn’t work. Then there is distribution. How does a brewer keep the integrity of the product when they have no control over the temperature and conditions on the container ships transporting it across the ocean?
When you think about it that way, it would make sense why you may not see a lot of craft coming from Hawaii, but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t brewers doing it.
We tried to find a place with a good selection of hoppy beverages, of which there were three: a grocery store, a specialty grocer or the source. You will notice that bottle shops are missing from this list. We looked for one of any kind in Kihei, Lehaina, and Paia, but the only stores we found ended up being just glorified liquor stores. Their selection wasn’t great and they certainly were not bottle shops.
On Maui, if you want to go to the source, you will need to check out Maui Brewing Company. Don’t think for a second that since they have no competition on the island that they would have grown soft in the last decade, because these guys are brewing some amazing beers. I took a trip to the tasting room in Kihei, where I found 20 something beers on tap – all theirs, all different, all delicious (okay, I only tried around 10, but you get the point).
In the grocery store you will get a lot of the standard grocery store fare: beer that is highly dependent on their specific distribution (hint: there are a lot of blue and silver cans). You have some local staples like Maui Brewing – and of course CBA’s Kona Brewing – but there are also some others like Hawaii Nui Brewing and Big Island Brewhaus. Some of the best beer I had the entire trip was Hawaii Nui’s Southern Cross Belgian Red Ale and Big Island’s Overboard IPA. The best was Maui’s Lorenzini Double IPA, a lovely hoppy beer brewed with blood orange, local citrus, and Maui cane sugar.
Specialty grocers like Whole Foods have a wider selection, but they don’t necessarily have a larger selection of local beers, but they do have a better selection of beer that I don’t see at home, beers like Modern Times out of San Diego. One beer you have to try: Primo. It is not craft (actually brewed by Pabst) but one can is a must.
Higher energy costs and less access to materials can make it a bit harder to brew in Hawaii, but there are new guys coming along with 8 total breweries taking up residence on the island. And people are starting to ask for serious beer.
Sounds like we may be at the tipping point for craft beer in Hawaii.