With our headquarters in Washington DC and the bulk of our correspondents found near America’s top producing craft beer regions on the coasts, it only makes sense for us to start a new series giving all the states their due, featuring breweries large and small, plus the histories behind them.
For the sake of clarity and with an eye toward avoiding any bias, we’re doing this thing alphabetically. We’ve now stayed sober long enough to have reached our eleventh state on the list, The Aloha State, Hawaii. Known for its scenic beauty as one of the world’s most popular tourist destinations, despite being 3,000 miles from the mainland, Hawaii is the gem of the Pacific. While it has thrived and grown in population over the years, the remote and expensive nature of their import heavy economy have made sustaining a brewery difficult.
The volcanic archipelago stands fortieth in total population (just under 1.5 million – though ranked 13th in population density) and has 10 brewers making up the Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild (no website) or the Aloha Brewers Guild. The state ranks 47th in total breweries and 37th in breweries per capita as of 2014, according to the Brewers Association.
Hawaii’s first brewer was the charming and industrious Spaniard Don Francisco de Paula Marin. Arriving in the islands around 1794, Marin was a close confidant of King Kamehameha I. He established the first vineyard in 1815, distilled sugarcane into rum, is claimed to have cultivated the first pineapple, cotton, mango and orange crops and of course, brewed the Hawaii’s first known beer, as noted in his journal on February 2, 1812.
Honolulu Brewery, the first “full-scale brewery,” opened in April of 1854. With the intention of supplying the area hotels with freshly bottled and or kegged beers, their earliest ads said it was made of “barley and hops only – contains no alcohol.”
Needless to say, the brewery itself didn’t survive the year that it opened. The National Brewery Company in Kahili brewed a version of steam beer from 1888 to 1893.
Then the dominate producer of the 20th century, Honolulu Brewing and Malt, started brewing in earnest with their Primo Beer in 1897. They shut down during prohibition, then continued on as Hawaiian Brewing Corp in 1933. Schlitz acquired the Primo brand in 1963 and closed the brewery in 1979. Primo is still produced at the former Keoki Brewing Company in Lihue, Kauai (starting in 2007) and owned by Hawaii Nui Brewing.
Hawaii’s first and still largest craft brewer, Kona Brewing, was founded in 1994 in the town of the same name on the big island. They currently produce 5 year-round beers, including their award winning Longboard Island Lager, and a variety of seasonal and draft only beers such as their delicious Koko Brown, Wailua Wheat and Pipeline Porter. Owned by the Craft Brew Alliance since 2010, they have 3 brewpub locations and 6 GABF medals under their belt.
Five More Breweries We Like and You Should Check Out
Big Island Brewhaus (Kamuela/Waimea, Big Island) – In existence since 2011, the brewhaus was founded by Thomas Kerns and his wife Jayne after they purchased Tako Taco Taqueria in 2008. Thomas brings his award winning brewing history with Maui Brewing to the table, winning another GABF medal just last October for their Golden Sabbath Belgian Strong. We’ve also been told their Overboard IPA is a lifesaver…
Hawaii Nui Brewing (Hilo, Big Island) – As earlier mentioned, this brewer acquired Keoki Brewing of Kauai the same year of their founding in 2007. Our Seattle based marketing guy Matt talked about how much he loved their Southern Cross Belgian Red when visiting Maui back in April, though their canned-only brews can be found throughout the islands despite their focus on small batched perfection.
Honolulu Beerworks (Kakaako, Honolulu, Oahu) – Opened just over a year ago, they started off with a bang by already having 9 of their own brews on tap, plus new ones pouring every two weeks. With “pupu” food as well as sandwiches on hand, the pub sets itself apart in Kakaako’s industrial setting. Owner Geoffrey Seideman comes from the now defunct Aloha Beer Co, bringing with him a wide variety of tasty treats such as farmhouse, kolsch and stout styles, for starters.
Kauai Beer Company (Lihui, Kauai) – Maintaining a brewery on the Garden Isle has proven a tall task over the years. Open since the Fall of 2013, Kauai Beer Company is already fast on their way to becoming a mainstay by utilizing the soft waters of Lihue. Making a name for themselves with their Black Limousine Bavarian Schwartzbier and the KoKoBoPo Oak-Aged Robust Porter, you have no reason not to stop here while in Kauai.
Maui Brewing (Kihei and Lahaina, Maui) – Open since 2005, they’re one of the islands’ largest brewers and the most award winning at GABF with 7 medals in ten years. They just finished their expansive brewhouse in Kihei and still maintain their original brewpub in Lahaina. Known as one of the earliest craft brewers to start canning, owner Garrett Marrero also takes pride in using solar power at both locations. We just want to say mahalo for their amazing CoCoNut PorTeR and pineapple infused Mana Wheat.
Didn’t find a brewery near you listed here? Go to the Beer In Hawaii site for an excellent state map.