Wednesday, May 17, 2006

Locals only, brah

Upon arrival on one of our earlier visits to Hawaii, when we immediately began hatching schemes for how to move and make a living there, the island brewpub/biergarten idea was tossed around quite a bit. Makes sense, right? A place to enjoy a nice, cold beer in a pleasant outdoor setting with live music in the torchlit evening while sating that post-surf hunger on some island-twisted pub grub, maybe? It made even more sense after we visited the Kona Brewing pub on the Big Island, where they've essentially taken the Pizza Port model and gave it a little shot of aloha. But when the sun goes down, the mosquitoes start biting and the sunburn begins to become manifest, logic sets in and explains why it's not such a splendid idea:
Materials: You've got to ship almost everything from the mainland, except for the water, which there's plenty of, but you have to chemically adjust until it's suitable for mashing.
Temperature: Ship me a ton of fresh grapes from Sonoma to Kauai and I can ferment you a monster pinot noir. Let a batch of pale ale sit out in the 90° weather for a couple weeks and you'd have yourself a pretty toxic brew. Paying for all that electricity to keep your fermentation temperaturess down (not to mention chilling lagers and serving taps) would cost you a pretty penny in a place with little localized natural energy resources. The only thing worse would be trying to open up a cryogenics lab.
Of course, there is an answer to all of this - open your little beachfront pub while doing the actual brewing ma uka on the Big Island. You've got plenty of space, cool temperatures, farmland if you decided to expand and grow any of your own ingredients, and cheaper property. And with tourist destinations being so sparse up on the highlands (andtravelerss just begging to spend some money on souvenirs), even the brewing facility can be a cash cow of a visitor's center. Just ask how much I spent at the Kauai Coffee plantation...
Digression aside, on our most recent trip to Kauai, we were pleasantly surprised to see that there were far more local beers available than even a couple years ago (not to mention the shock of seeing Trappist ales in even the most remote burger huts). Here are a few you can expect to run into next time you spend some time in that paradise of paradises:

Keoki - Based in Lihue, Kauai, this brewery makes a malty pale ale (Gold) and a maltier amber ale (Sunset) that are both enjoyable if not as crisp and hoppy as one might like. Very soft on the palate and a perfect match for some kalua ribs.

Kona Brewing Co. - Easily the best beer on the islands. For what they lack in creativity (their line-up of pale to dark ales is pretty familiar) they make up for in quality. They do have occasional brewing experiments on tap at the main pub on the Big Island, which (along with their darn good pizzas) makes it a worthwhile destination.

Mehana Brewing Co. - Someday, a brewer in Hawaii will tell his marketing folks to quit it with the petroglyph art, but until then, you're bound to be confused by the similar packaging on all the local bottles. Although Mehana has a little more variety than Keoki in the brewhouse, the results are similarly low-hopped and malty. The red ale, however, fills a nice niche in the "evening on the lanai listening to the birds and the frogs" category, with decent body a nice caramel finish.

Waimea Brewing Co. - Sensing a theme here? If you're looking to go to Hawaii and kick back with a nice imperial stout, you might have to bring it yourself.

(Quick aside on the Kona tip: As fab as their beer is when you're in the islands, be forewarned - on tap, you're getting something freshly brewed from the hip and fonky burg of Kailua-Kona, but in the bottle you're buying a contract recipe brewed, bottled and shipped by a major brewhouse in Washington state. Drink local!)


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