Taste Test: We Tried Every Beer at Aloha Beer Co. in Honolulu
We drank 13 beers in one sitting—well, sort of—to rank them for you.
PHOTOS: KATIE KENNY
We’re all about drinking local, from dropping a locally brewed pack of beer in our shopping cart to frequenting one of the handful of breweries that have set up base here on O‘ahu. But picking out your next go-to brew at a new place can be intimidating.
That’s where we come in.
For the second edition of our new monthly series that ranks every item offered by one company, we’ve chosen to check out Kaka‘ako’s popular Aloha Beer Co. on Queen Street. Just a heads up, we’re going to mention each beer’s IBU, which is an abbreviation for the International Bitterness Units scale. This is linked to the acidity found in the hops that gives beer that bitter taste. And while we’re giving disclaimers, our two beer testers have vastly different tastes. Keep that in mind, as well as the fact that they shared 13 five-ounce beers (that ranged between $2.50 and $3.75) in one sitting. The gloves are off.
13. Froot Lupes
Juicy IPA. 7.3% ABV, 40 IBU
Katie Kenny, digital editorial specialist: What is a “juicy” IPA? I’m worried. [Sniffs beer.] I thought it would smell more fruity than this. [Sips beer.] Somehow it’s creamy and scratching my throat at the same time. Pretty bitter if that’s your thing.
Katrina Valcourt, managing editor: Nope. I don’t like it at all. Too hoppy. And somehow I don’t get any fruity notes. Just a warning, almost half the menu here is IPAs—my least favorite style of beer.
Session IPA. 4.6% ABV, 39 IBU
KV: Even though it has that hoppy IPA smell, the Manini is more floral than bitter, making it a decent session beer.
KK: Too bitter. If calling this a “session” means that you’re meant to drink many of them continuously, then count me out.
11. Hop Lei IPA
West coast IPA. 6.4% ABV, 70 IBU
KV: This beer has the highest IBU on the menu, so I knew going in that I would not be a fan. It smells very floral, but I just can’t. It’s way too bitter for my liking. I’d much rather drink the Manini but I guess we’re compromising.
KK: This is a pretty standard IPA to me. Great for day drinking but I wouldn’t order the same one again. The aftertaste is a bit funky.
10. Same Same Pale
American pale ale. 5.7% ABV, 38 IBU
KV: The Same Same is middle of the road for me. I like it better than IPAs because it’s not a harsh pale ale, but not a lot of flavor comes through.
KK: Not a bad taste at first but the aftertaste is like old soap! This is not better than the IPAs, Katrina. No.
9. Tiny Bubbles
Brut IPA. 7.4% ABV, 22 IBU
KK: The smiley bartender snuck this one in! We’ve gone off menu so I’m expecting great things. Smells appealing and fruity. I like the flavor but it’s a little too hoppy for me.
KV: Oh, Katie. This one was only a little hoppy. It’s mildly bitter and has a mouthfeel similar to that of a dry Champagne. I like the somewhat fruity taste (is that apple?), despite my dislike of IPAs in general. So of course the least-IPA-like IPA is the one I like and Katie doesn’t. Turns out this will be added to the menu shortly but is available now if you ask.
8. Aloha Blonde
Golden, cream, blonde ale. 4.8% ABV, 20 IBU
KV: Similar to Bud Light but with a tiny bit of extra flavor. It’s super clean and drinkable—but almost to the point of it tasting like nothing. I’d have it with lunch.
KK: Alright, so here’s the thing: I’m a huge fan of a blonde and typically order it when I’m at a new brewery. But I am not happy with this Bud Light-tasting brew. Least alcohol content. Least bitterness. Least flavor. Least likability.
Imperial stout. 9.9% ABV, 75 IBU
KV: I was looking forward to trying this one the most. With the highest alcohol and IBU on the menu, it sounded like it could be a disaster. The first sip made me say “Whoa”—but in a good way! It tastes more like a beer than the porter does and felt lighter in my mouth.
KK: I love a Guinness but never think to order one in Hawai‘i (bit hot, no?). However, this chocolatey-smelling stout is lighter than expected yet the flavor has not been lost in translation. Now I know where to come when I’m craving a heavy pint!
6. Red Zeppelin
Old school IPA. 6.8% ABV, 62 IBU
KV: Again with the IPAs! I do not like the smell of this beer at all. It’s got a slight floral coffee aftertaste that is much more pleasant than the actual sip, sending me into a complicated love/hate loop. I wanted this lower on the ranking.
KK: I’m shocked that Katrina is surprised that an American brewery has heaps of IPAs on the menu. This is IPA nation, missy! An IPA has to be pretty special for me to get on board and I’m a big fan of the Red Zeppelin. I love that it reminds me of a craft beer from the Northeast. Just putting it out there that I wanted this higher on the ranking.
Bavarian Hefeweizen brewed with agave nectar. 5.7% ABV, 12 IBU
KK: How is this better than the Red Zeppelin? I’ve lost control of this ranking system. This beer is just a classy Corona.
KV: Like a wheatier Corona. This one leans more toward a banana flavor, which sounds terrible with lime but is pretty tasty. The Zeppelin was weird, that’s why.
4. Queen St Pils
Munich-style pilsner. 5.2% ABV, 30 IBU
KV: Very refreshing but kind of boring. It didn’t really taste like anything so I don’t know what to say. It wasn’t bad at all, but I think I need the right kind of food to pair with it to make it interesting.
KK: A more carbonated version of the Aloha Blonde. Can I be invited back to this ranking conversation, please?
3. Portlock Porter
Robust porter. 5.8% ABV, 27 IBU
KV: This is my personal favorite beer here—I love porters, and this one tastes of roasted coffee beans without being too heavy. Very smooth.
KK: Hey! This smells like my daily flat white coffee! Katrina kept mentioning how smooth it is, which turned me off at first because at this point I’m mistrusting her beer judgment. But I’ll allow it. This is really good.
2. Waimānalo Farmhouse
Belgian saison. 5.4% ABV, 24 IBU
KK: Hands down the winner. It’s fruity, joyful and just simply a pleasure to drink. It has a slightly sour bite and a smooth aftertaste. I order this every time I’m here and if I see it on the menu elsewhere. Who doesn’t love a saison in the summer? I’ve always been partial to beer from Belgium, too.
KV: I already knew Katie would push for this to be No. 1 before we even finished our first flight of four beers. And I could see myself drinking this on a farm, for sure. It’s light and only slightly sour, which adds to the taste instead of giving me a mouth-puckering reaction.
1. Vienna Lager
Classic amber lager. 5.6% ABV, 25 IBU
KK: There’s a reason lagers are classic. This extremely drinkable and crisp house lager is one that everyone (with varying tastes in beer) can all agree on. Plus the amber body is different from the lagers I grew up with and I’m all for it.
KV: This one smells really good. Since it’s an amber lager, it has a bit more heft to it than some of the lighter beers we tried, but its IBU is pretty low. This is a nice mellow sip and scored high for both of us (unlike some of the others, clearly).
Aloha Beer Co., 700 Queen St., (808) 544-1605, alohabeer.com