Drink Local Guide: Where to Get Locally Brewed Craft Beer in Honolulu
With a slate of thriving breweries, bustling neighborhood bars, and Island-made beer lining the shelves of local stores, craft beer lovers in Hawai‘i have never had it better.
BACKGROUND DESIGN and Illustrations: KIM SIELBECK; PHOTO: STEVE CZERNIAK
Longtime residents will remember we haven’t always had much of a craft beer scene. Compared to the robust craft beer hotspots of Portland, San Diego and Denver, Honolulu lagged for years. According to Timothy Golden, co-owner of the newly opened Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room in Kaka‘ako, the craft beer scene in Hawai‘i changed for the better five years ago. “Up until that point, O‘ahu was plagued with a string of failed breweries,” he says. “Either the beers weren’t of the greatest quality or the businesses were just poorly run.”
Beginning in 2012, a wave of new openings—both breweries and bars—changed the craft beer landscape. “Real a Gastropub and Pint + Jigger both opened with stellar beer lineups. Then Honolulu Beerworks, Waikīkī Brewing Co. and Lanikai Brewing Co. all opened within a few months of each other and, all of a sudden, O‘ahu had three craft breweries,” recalls Golden, who began writing the popular Beer in Hawai‘i blog around the same time.
And the growing scene hasn’t slowed since, with expansion a focus for many established breweries. This year, Maui Brewing Co. opened a splashy new restaurant in Waikīkī, with plans to expand its Kīhei brewery and open another brewpub in Kailua in 2018. After shuttering a few years ago, Aloha Beer Co. found new life in a Kaka‘ako warehouse. Upstarts Waikīkī, Lanikai, and Stewbum & Stonewall are all in various stages of expansion.
Local breweries have also doubled-down on committing to using Island-grown ingredients, which can make for some true only-in-Hawai‘i experiences. Think: Maui Brewing Co.’s Liquid Breadfruit Ale or Honolulu Beerworks’ Pia Mahi‘ai Honey Citrus Saison, made with locally grown citrus and honey.
With such a receptive public, the big question is: What took Hawai‘i so long to pick up on craft beer? There’s the cost of starting a brewery, for one. Shipping ingredients and bottling materials can get pricey—then add in the cost of real estate and machinery.
Troy Terorotua, owner of beer bar standouts Real a Gastropub and Brew’d, also blames a sort of cultural inertia, in which people were “groomed to drink what was available, what their friends drank, what their parents drank and what was affordable.” But between well-traveled Islanders bringing back a taste for craft beer and tourists who arrive thirsty for local beer, there’s more of an audience now than 10 years ago.
What’s next? We can expect more—and better—beer, says Golden. “People used to joke that there was no good beer in Hawai‘i,” he says, “but I’m super proud about where we are now and there is still so much more room for growth.”
What’s Hopping with Local Breweries
Home of the Brave Brewing Co.
It’s about remembering, honoring and saluting America’s soldiers and veterans at this World War II-inspired “brewseum” in Kaka‘ako, featuring possibly the largest donated private collection of World War II artifacts and memorabilia in the Pacific. At the bar, patrons can enjoy handcrafted beers such as the citrusy Pilot Pale Ale and the dark Charlie Brown Ale, plus weekly events that include TailHook Tuesday, where you can test your skills landing a small prop jet onto a table modeled after an aircraft carrier. Next door at the museum, owner Glen Tomlinson pours vintage craft cocktails upstairs at the recently opened Wiki Waki Woo speakeasy.
His son, Home of the Brave sales and marketing manager Duke Tomlinson, says, “Mom teaches you a secret knock, which gets you upstairs to Dad, who’s making drinks like the Diamond Head Muleskinner, our take on the Moscow mule, and a mai tai on draft that comes in a tiki mug. It’s a ton of fun.”
909 Waimanu St., (808) 396-8112, homeofthebravebrewing.com
Maui Brewing Co.
It’s a busy time for Maui Brewing Co. The company opened its second brewpub location (to go with its original in Lahaina) this past January in Waikīkī and has two more on the horizon: one in Kīhei opening in early 2018 and another in Kailua, slated to open in fall 2018. This comes on the heels of husband-and-wife owners Garrett and Melanie Marrero being named the 2017 Small Business Persons of the Year by the U.S. Small Business Association in May.
“It’s an honor to have national recognition like that. My wife and I were excited to bring that home not only for Maui Brewing but the state,” says Garrett Marrero. “As we grow, we’re still committed to authentic local production in all of our beverages, which now include sodas like ginger beer and cola. Manufacturing can and should be thriving in Hawai‘i.”
Multiple locations, mauibrewingco.com
Aloha Beer Co.
Aloha Beer Co. is now in Kaka‘ako with a two-story space on Queen Street. The new 7,200-square-foot production facility comes with plenty of seating—in a lively outdoor Carport “garage,” the casual indoor Tap Room and, upstairs, in the swanky HI Brau Room, a fancy lounge complete with leather chairs, turntables and a fireplace.
Here, you can enjoy a selection of beers by brewmaster Dave Campbell, such as the fruity Waimānalo Farmhouse. This year welcomed the return of a physical location for Aloha Beer, which had previously occupied the old Sam Choy’s spot on Nimitz Highway. The company has moved away from the contract-brewed bottles once familiar to supermarket shoppers to focus on fresh-brewed, on-tap beers that show stylistic diversity. These include a funky Makai Pier Gose made with salty ocean water, a light-bodied Manini IPA and the malty Queen Street Bitter, a take on a popular British style. They all pair nicely with an eclectic menu that includes meaty sandwiches, pickled specialties, salads and tasty sides.
700 Queen St., (808) 554-1605, alohabeer.com
Beer Lab HI
In the former Bank of Hawai‘i space at the Varsity Center, beer aficionados Nic Wong, Derek Taguchi and Kevin Teruya opened Beer Lab HI last March with a mission: to continually experiment and create original small-batch brews for beer lovers. Since opening, the trio hasn’t disappointed, with a seven-barrel brewing system that allows Beer Lab HI to test new flavor combinations with varying hops profiles, malt bills and local ingredients. The regular lineup is always changing (and rarely repeats), but past selections have included Minako, an Irish red ale brewed with macadamia nuts, and Rebel Le‘a, a tart saison with li hing mui and pineapple flavors.
1010 University Ave., (808) 888-0913, beerlabhi.com
Using a custom seven-barrel system, husband-and-wife owners Geoff and Charmayne Seideman have operated the open-air Honolulu Beerworks craft brewery and brewpub in Kaka‘ako since 2014. Every afternoon and evening, guests gather on long communal picnic tables indoors and out to enjoy some of a dozen or so beers from Beerworks’ house selections or rotating seasonal varieties, including the citrusy Pia Mahi‘ai Honey Citrus Saison and the tangerine and grapefruit flavors of the Hop Island IPA. Honolulu Beerworks today has become a gathering place as a working brewery in a neighborhood once dominated by industrial use.
328 Cooke St., (808) 589-2337, honolulubeerworks.com
Lanikai Brewing Co.
Founded by a team of graduates from UH Mānoa’s business school and homebrew enthusiasts, this 5-year-old outfit opened in a warehouse off Hāmākua Marsh in Kailua with two core beers sold in tall 20-ounce bottles: a porter made with local vanilla, and a double IPA. The crew has steadily scaled up, adding new styles (including standouts such as the Route 70 Saison and ‘Ōkole Maluna, an imperial porter) and, now, a larger taproom in Kailua this fall, where drinkers will be able to order full-size pints.
175C Hāmākua Drive, Kailua, lanikaibrewing.com
Waikīkī Brewing Co.
Tucked in the back of one of Waikīkī’s Cheeseburger in Paradise outlets, this brewery is run by Joe Lorenzen, a former general manager who brewed beer as a hobby. He started off supplying the restaurant with a roster of specialty beers, including a jalapeño amber ale and a super-hoppy IPA, but quickly expanded to supply local restaurants’ tap lines. A foray into packaging in cans brought the popular Hana Hou Hefe into liquor stores and supermarkets. Now the brewery is growing again, with a new location open in the old Fresh Café spot in Kaka‘ako.
Multiple locations, waikikibrewing.com
Stewbum & Stonewall
After getting a start on the Windward Side, this 3-year-old nano-brewery plans to trade its Kāne‘ohe warehouse for new digs in Chinatown, with a start date pegged for the beginning of next year. Fans of the outfit, which produced only 12 kegs a week for local restaurants, can look forward to better availability of hits such as Makana Island Wheat, Batch 518 Pale Ale and Swear Jar IPA made with a trio of potent hops.
Big Island Brewhaus
Since 2011, this Hawai‘i Island brewery has consistently drawn critical raves and national awards for its well-balanced beer. A handful of flagship beers is distributed throughout the Islands, including the Golden Sabbath, an imperial golden ale, and the White Mountain Porter, made with toasted coconut and locally grown coffee. A greater range of style is on display at the brewery, including a sour ale made with jaboticaba fruit and a cream ale that uses Hawai‘i-grown ‘ulu (breadfruit) in place of part of the grain base to be more sustainable. The Waimea location also houses a full-service restaurant that serves farm-to-table-inspired fare, including burgers made with Island-grown beef, baked Hāmākua macadamia nuts and New Mexico-style green chili stew.
Mad about Kona Beer
Kona Brewing Co. got started in Hawai‘i and still produces more than 12,000 barrels of beer annually at the Kailua-Kona brewery. But the company also brews beer distributed to the Mainland in Oregon, Washington, Tennessee and New Hampshire. Two California men cried foul and filed suit against the owners in federal court, claiming the company is misleading beer drinkers because not all Kona beer is brewed in Hawai‘i. The suit accuses the company of “flat-out misrepresentation” because no packaging explains the beer’s origin and no bottled, canned or draft beer sold on the Mainland is actually made in Hawai‘i. Guess it’s really local beer.
3 Beer Cocktails
Waikīkī Brewing Co.
Waikīkī Brewing’s just-spicy-enough Jalapeño Mouth beer gets put to good use in this take on the classic michelada, a mix of tomato juice, Worcestershire sauce, beer and lime juice.
Pint + Jigger
Who knew that subbing beer for club soda in a mojito recipe could feel so fresh?
Maui Brewing Co. Waikīkī
This twist on the classic Moscow mule gets a kick from Honolulu-based Paradise Ciders’ Kickit Ginger, made with local pineapple, ginger and citrus.