Beer Lab HI is Mānoa’s Newest Brewpub Where You Can Sample Local Craft Beers
Three engineers turn a homebrew hobby into a brick-and-mortar business on University Avenue.
Friends, co-workers and now business owners, from left, Kevin Teruya, Derek Taguchi and Nick Wong opened Beer Lab HI this month, turning their hobby and passion into a brick-and-mortar business.
Photos: Catherine Toth Fox
There are really only two things Nick Wong, Derek Taguchi and Kevin Teruya have in common.
All three work as nuclear engineers at Pearl Harbor. And all three love beer.
So much so, they decided to open their own brewpub, called Beer Lab HI, this month at Varsity Center—without any commercial experience brewing beer or running a business. And they’re not planning to quit their day jobs, either.
Here’s how it started: Kevin Teruya, 34, wanted to learn how to brew beer at home. So he got a couple of books on the topic and scoured the Internet for information.
It wasn’t long before he had converted the enclosed lānai in his Mililani home into his own personal homebrew space, complete with three chest freezers and a kegerator (draft beer dispenser) with five taps. He would brew five-gallon batches at a time—and give most of it away. (He has a very supportive wife.)
Wong, 26, and Taguchi, 36, would come over on brew days—usually Sundays—to sample Teruya’s brews. And they got into homebrewing, too. It was just a hobby.
Then the three co-workers started to have that conversation many homebrewers have: Why not open our own brewpub? Wouldn’t that be awesome?
So they drafted a business plan, secured loans, leased the 3,000-square-foot space formerly occupied by Bank of Hawai‘i on University Avenue across from Puck’s Alley and got to brewing. Wong was slotted as the CEO, Taguchi the CFO and Teruya the brewmaster.
Beer Lab HI held its soft opening in early March, relying on word-of-mouth and social media to lure beer enthusiasts looking for unique, locally made craft beer, brewed in small batches. (The official opening is scheduled for March 19.)
So far, it’s working.
The brewpub has been filled on the nights it’s open—Wednesday through Saturday—with people flocking for the creative brews on tap and its popular BYOF (Bring Your Own Food) policy.
They’re already seem the gamut of food, too, from poke to pizza to greasy Southern food from the LaLa Land food truck that parks in the empty lot across the street.
“We didn’t want to serve food because it’s not something we know how to do and we didn’t want to do something that just wasn’t good,” Taguchi says. “We want to focus on making really good beer.”
Beer Lab HI serves between six and eight different brews at any given time. All of the beer here is brewed in small batches and rarely served again once it runs out.
Inside Beer Lab HI, which occupies the 3,000-square-foot space vacated by Bank of Hawai‘i.
Peter Nguyen, a Maryknoll School alum and artist for DC Comics, created this wall mural inside the brewpub. It took him three days.
The seating area, which can accommodate up to 80 people, is clean and utilitarian, with redwood panels from Taguchi’s house for the bar, and doors repurposed as table tops. Strings of incandescent bulbs hang from the rafters, giving the space a warm and inviting feel. The bar itself is a long concrete slab. On the University Avenue wall is a huge mural penned by Peter Nguyen, a local artist who works for DC Comics. Using a white Sharpie, he sketched out the story of Beer Lab HI, from the Ko‘olau Mountains that loom over Mānoa Valley to caricatures of Wong, Taguchi and Teruya.
About half the space here is full of equipment, with hot liquor tanks, a mash tub, and a 10-gallon brew kettle in the back room. Behind that is the fermentation room—painted orange because Wong is a big Denver Broncos fan—with seven commercial-grade fermenters and kept at 66 degrees. The ready-to-serve brews are stored in the chiller right behind the bar.
Wong shows us the fermentation room, which is painted orange for his favorite football team, the Denver Broncos.
Last week, the brewpub offered six brews on tap. (It serves between six and eight different brews at any given time.) There was a smooth coffee porter made with Maui-grown coffee, a rye pale ale, and a clean and dry saison. The names and descriptions were enough to entice. Take, for example, The Truth, a brew made with a brettanomyces yeast that gave it both an earthy and citrus-y flavor. The description was this: “Horses frolicking in a grapefruit field.” Of course, I had to sample it.
“We drink it and we feel it,” says Wong about the naming process.
They serve the beers until they run out—over about four to five weeks—and that’s it. Another slew of brews will replace them. (Hence, the “lab” part of the brewpub’s name.)
“We hardly brew the same beer twice,” Teruya says, though none of them are ruling out the possibility of reviving popular brews in the future.
And they know not everyone loves beer as much as they do, so they offer soda, and three wine selections—all quality vints—for $9 a glass.
“We just want to make the best brews we can and share them with people,” Wong says.
Beer Lab HI, Varsity Center, 1010 University Ave., 4 to 10 p.m. Wednesday through Saturday, 888-0913, beerlabhi.com