Drink Local: Hawai‘i-Based Brewer Ola Brew Co Launches a Very Trendy Hard Seltzer
Big Island company produces new made-in-Hawai‘i flavors including lemongrass and ginger.
Photo: Robbie Dingeman
Kailua-Kona-based Ola Brewing Corp. just debuted the light, local flavors of lemongrass, ginger and lemon lime hard seltzer, the first made-in-Hawai‘i company to jump into the increasingly popular boozy seltzer market.
In our informal taste tests, the ginger and lemongrass tied for our favorites. Both had a clean refreshing flavor that tasted like their ingredients made into a light bubbly beverage.
Writer/yoga instructor Suzanne Sasaki first found the Ola seltzers at Whole Foods Market and shared them with friends on one of those recent 95-degree days. “It’s like grown-up pop: not too sweet and super crisp. Ginger flavor definitely has a bite, my favorite one of the three,” she says.
Hukilau proprietor/bartender Sheldon Lo has been experimenting with the Ola hard seltzers as mixers in cocktails heʻs concocting in the downtown Honolulu basement eatery. One of his recent riffs uses the lemongrass seltzer to riff on an icy drink reminiscent of oxtail soup, with grated ginger, cilantro and Pernod playing the part of the five spice and other aromatics.
Sasaki says she prefers the clean flavor of the Ola brand over some of the other choices on the market. “Some of the boozy sodas out there taste fake,” she says. “Trying too hard to be create an adult beverage.”
Photo: Robbie Dingeman
The seltzers offer a low alcohol drink option, at 4.8% ABV, produced from cold brewed sugar as well as locally grown produce, says Ola community outreach manager Katie Ziemann.
Lemon lime paled next to the others, better for us as a cocktail mixer, with gin or vodka over ice with a twist. At 100 calories a can, compared to tonic which averages a little over 150 calories, it’s light with a natural citrusy flavor.
This category of lighter beverages has arrived in a big way in the liquor section of supermarkets and other stores, carving out territory among beer drinkers and gaining traction across the state and country. Some of the national brands selling boozy carbonated beverages include: Truly, White Claw, Spiked Seltzer and a subset of boozy kombucha, including June Shine, which has some founders who hail from Hawai‘i.
Is this just another fad destined to disappear into those “remember when we drank Zima or Bartles & Jaymes wine coolers?” stories. Well, for now, sales data suggests the market is still growing. Nielsen store scans indicate that during the past six months, the nation spent $389 million on hard seltzer: an increase of 210% from the previous year.
Ziemann says Ola proudly sources its ingredients from farms across the state as part of its mission to encourage growth in Hawai‘iʻs agricultural economy by buying responsibly grown local products.
Photo: Christi Young
Ziemann named the specific farms that produced ingredients for each seltzer:
Lemongrass: sourced from Evonuk Farms on Maui & HIP Agriculture on Hawai`i Island.
Ginger: sourced from Moloa'a Organica'a on Kaua‘i.
Lemon Lime: sourced from Kahili Farms on Hawai‘i Island.
Ola runs a tap room in Kailua-Kona that serves food as well as beer, cider and the seltzers and runs daily tours. It celebrates its second anniversary in mid-December. Ziemann says the company does plan to open a tap room on O‘ahu but donʻt have a target date soon.
The company currently cans Ma‘a Island Lager, an IPA and Kona Gold pineapple cider for retail sales statewide.
With the rollout of the seltzers, the retail price on O‘ahu has ranged from $8.88 on sale at Foodland to $10.99 at Whole Foods market.