First Look: Aloha Beer Co. in Kaka‘ako
The latest brewpub to open in Honolulu has it all: well-executed local suds, chill atmosphere and funky cheese sticks.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
The word is out—and the folks at Aloha Beer Co. weren’t even trying that hard.
The newest brewpub in Kaka‘ako—joining Honolulu Beerworks and Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room—opened in January with nothing more than a lively opening event that spurred the kind of word-of-mouth marketing you can’t pay for. Since then, craft beer fanatics, downtown workers, Instagramming foodies and the thirsty pau hana crowd have braved the parking-challenged strip of Queen Street to sample the local brews crafted by veteran brewmaster Dave Campbell and the hearty menu by local chef and pork purveyor Robert McGee. (Both have devout followings, Campbell from his years at Big Aloha Brewery and McGee from The Whole Ox Deli and Salt Kitchen & Tasting Bar.)
There’s good reason to visit this new spot—and not just because today is National Beer Day.
First, the beer.
Campbell is known as the pioneer of craft beer in Hawai‘i and is credited for starting the homebrew movement here, too. (He started craft brewing in 1985, as a senior at Punahou School, then opened O‘ahu Home Brewing Supply, now Homebrew in Paradise.) Big Island-born brewer for the company Kaiao Archer has spent more than a decade in the brewing industry, both here and in San Diego. So these two know what they’re doing.
On any given day, there are a dozen locally brewed beers on tap, all of which rotate based on availability and seasons. On Wednesday, we sampled an easy-to-drink golden ale (Blonde), a rich-and-sweet porter (Portlock Porter), a funky saison (Waimānalo Farmhouse) and a hazy New England-style IPA (The Vog). Beers are reasonably priced at $6.50 and $7.50 for a pint, $4.50 and $5.25 for a half-pint, and $2.50 to $3 for a 2-ounce pour in a flight.
If beer’s not your thing—we don’t judge—the cocktails, created by Brad Miller (formerly of Monkeypod Kitchen Ko Olina), are great options. There’s the Aloha Mule ($9) with Deep Eddy vodka and Aloha Ginger Beer, or a very smoky Smoked Fatty ($9) with fat-washed Four Roses bourbon, smoked lemon and rosemary syrup, fresh lemon juice and an IPA float. (Read about fat-washing cocktails here.) I enjoyed the refreshing Salutations ($10), a fruity blend of Old Lahaina light rum, fresh liliko‘i purée, lemongrass syrup, kaffir lime leaves and gingery SKY Kombucha.
With McGee in the kitchen—really a food truck alongside the dining rooms—I found some familiar themes on the menu: shishito peppers ($12) fried in a brown-butter sizzle, sticky ribs ($12) braised in honey and Aloha Beer’s Farmhouse ale, and a bratwurst sandwich ($14) with Farmhouse dijon, grilled onions, egg salad and a bitter pop of frisée.
I’m slightly obsessed with pickles, and the small plate ($9) here delivered several different kinds of pickled treats, including a not-too-spicy kim chee, a garlicky combo of cauliflower and carrots, and bread-and-butter pickles, all made in-house. The funky cheese sticks ($12) live up to their name, particularly the pungent raclette. The accompanying marinara has some jus from the kim chee, so it holds up the nice spice there, too.
One of the more popular sandwiches is the smoked butt ($12). Mounds of slow-roasted pork shoulder come dressed in Carolina vinegar, shredded and stacked on white bread with something called pig butter. That’s a lot of meat in one place.
The meatball sandwich special ($14) took me back to the days when McGee ran a restaurant named Meatball on Kapahulu Avenue. The special meatballs were made with a blend of local beef and pork piled on a La Tour hoagie bun, with a spicy San Marzano tomato marinara, with just the right amount of grated ricotta salata and garlic butter. Not sure I've found a better meatball sandwich.
What I love about this place, though, also frustrates me. There are three different seating areas. (Only two were open; the luxe upstairs room, called the HI Brau Room, won’t be open to the public until next Thursday.) The Tap Room, where the bar is, is sleek and modern, is devoid of flat-screen TVs and anything else that might distract you from what you’re really here for (namely, eating and drinking). The outside area, aptly called the Carport, is noisy, lively and fun. You can pick your party—outside, where it’s super chill, or inside, where it’s more comfortable and air-conditioned. All that is fine. But, no matter where you sit—inside or out—you have to stand in line at the bar to order food and drinks. (Unless it’s a really slow night, at which point the staff might check on tables for drink orders, or if you’re upstairs, which will have full table service.) That may sound easy enough. But, when you’re mid-meatball sandwich in the Carport and you’ve just run out of that ice-cold IPA you were enjoying, you have to leave your table—and sandwich—and stand in line to order another brew. It was hard to rally to get up at that point, and we started to wish for some table service.
That said, I’d come back. Again and again. Especially if that meatball hoagie gets on the menu permanently.
700 Queen St., 544-1605, alohabeer.com