Five Hawaii Beers You Need to Try
Craft beer is hot right now, hotter than a summer day in Hawaii. There are more breweries in the country than ever before, and even Hawaii, once awash in green bottled beer, is producing a number of award-winning breweries. In the last five years, new breweries have opened up on each of the four major islands, for a total of eight active breweries and many more in the planning stages. So with all the local beer choices, where to begin? Some suggestions from local craft beer fans and bar managers:
Big Island Brewhaus White Mountain Porter
Recommended by: Bill Carl, bar manager at Humpy’s Kona
Big Island Brewhaus, a small Waimea brewery, opened two years ago, with former Maui Brewing Co. brewmaster Thomas Kern at the helm. Its White Mountain Porter, brewed with toasted coconut and Hamakua Coast coffee, will remind you of chocolate-coconut-coffee ice cream (it makes an incredible ice cream float). “What screams Hawaii more than fresh roasted coffee and the addition of natural coconut,” says Carl. “I love to have this beer with my hearty Sunday morning brunch. Keep the Folgers in the cupboard for the in-laws and open up a bottle of White Mountain [for yourself].”
Hawaii Nui Brewing Hapa Brown Ale
Recommended by: Doug Lamerson, craft beer aficionado
"Hapa was the first brown ale I discovered with a real personality,” says Lamerson of this beer by Hilo-based Hawaii Nui Brewing. “It's nicely balanced between a smooth, toasty, caramel malt and a discernible, but subtle Amarillo hop profile. It's delicious without being heavy and has an alluring toffee-like aroma, too."
Hawaii Nui Brewing also produces the Mehana Brewing brand and can be found statewide both in bottles and on draft.
Aloha Beer Co. Kiawe Honey Porter
Recommended by: Tony Raso, beverage director at Real a Gastropub
Aloha Beer Co. is one of Oahu's newer breweries, but its brewmaster, Dave Campbell, is a pioneer in the Hawaii craft beer scene. Campbell oversaw the brewing for Sam Choy’s Big Aloha Brewery for many years, and before that, owned and operated Oahu’s main homebrew shop. From his years of brewing in the Islands, Campbell has created unique beers with local flair.
“Kiawe Honey Porter is a great, local, session beer,” Raso says. “A nice break from the IIPAs and Russian Imperial Stouts that we feature on draft at Real primarily. It’s a beer [with] a ton of flavor… I love the roasted chocolate and tobacco notes. They pair well with the light sweetness from the kiawe honey. It’s a beer that I go back to again and again.”
Kona Brewing Co. Hula Hefeweizen
Recommended by: Jonathan Schwalbenitz, bartender at Murphy’s
If you’re looking to try something different from Kona Brewing, seek out Hula Hefe, a crisp, refreshing, traditional Hefeweizen. “I love the tasty banana and light clove notes,” says Schwalbenitz. “This beer works so well in our subtropical climate.” A fantastic warm weather beer that can be enjoyed year-round in Hawaii.
Maui Brewing Co. Big Swell IPA
Recommended by: Dave Power, owner of The Feral Pig
No list is complete without an India Pale Ale. IPAs are one of the most popular craft beer styles and Hawaii has its very own world-class IPA— Maui Brewing Co.’s Big Swell IPA. With any IPA, freshness is key, as the flavor and aroma from the hops deteriorate over time. So drinking a fresh, locally-made IPA like Big Swell is the best way to experience the bold and bright hoppy flavors of the style.
Power says, “it’s my kind of beer. It’s full-flavored, food-friendly, balanced, but towards the hoppy side of things. It's a little different in a can, so it's worth tracking it down both on draft and in the beach-worthy can."
Timothy Golden is a homebrewer and beer lover. Find more of his writing on Hawaii’s beer scene at beerinhawaii.com