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5 Craft Breweries to Check Out in Hawaii

The craft beer scene in Hawaii has come a long way in the last decade, and here in 2020, Oahu, Big Island, Maui, and Kauai all have multiple breweries. Here are five to check out on your next visit.

Ola Brew (Big Island)

What’s interesting about Ola Brew in Kona is that it actually started as a cidery. It’s owner, Brett Jacobson, comes from a permaculture background and originally started brewing cider in an attempt to help local farms, using pineapple, dragon fruit, and starfruit in his recipes. He saw this as a positive thing for Hawaii, a positive business to business connection.

After the success of his cider, he wondered if he could do the same thing with beer. Jacobson liked the idea of creating symbiotic relationships between local businesses, believing it to be the strongest, most sustainable way forward. If he began brewing and tried to use local ingredients, would that encourage local farms to grow grain and hops? The answer remains to be seen, but he’s certainly going to try.

“We’ll be chipping away at it the next five years,” Jacobson said. “I call it ‘beer sovereignty’… One day I hope to make beer from 100 percent Hawaii ingredients.”

The name “Ola,” which means life, health, well-being and prosperity, goes along with what he hopes to accomplish within the local economy.

"Our whole reason for existing is to create a demand for local agriculture in Hawaii," he said. "With the high demand [for craft beer and cider], we can make an impact, front and center."

One of the most interesting breweries in all the islands is found on the east side of Oahu in Kailua. Known for his locally-driven, locally-sourced experimental style, there’s never a dull moment with Lanikai Brewing Co-founder, CEO, and Brewmaster Steve Haumschild, whose projects include foraging for ingredients, making beer from space yeast, and aging beers underwater. At the Tap and Barrel Tasting Room, you’ll find a full lineup of his “island inspired” flagship beers that include at least one local ingredient: Pikake flowers in the Moku Imperial IPA, Hawaiian vanilla in the Pillbox Porter, and hibiscus and Big Island honey in the Route 70 Saison.

Ask about the brewery’s seasonal series, Mauka to Makai, which takes local sourcing to a whole new level (such as the Kahiki Historical Ale, a malt beverage brewed with ti root, taro, coconut, turmeric, and breadfruit) and the Hawaiian Wild Ales series that features beers brewed with yeast that Haumschild has personally bio-prospected from the slopes of volcanoes on the Big Island and mango farms and beaches on the North Shore of Oahu.

Beer Lab (Oahu)

Located near the University of Hawaii, Beer Lab is known for focusing on brewing with unique levels of malt, hops, and special ingredients that result in unusual flavor profiles and combinations. Indeed, its staff says “the brewery was built on the idea of continual change, experimentation, and small batch brews to provide beer lovers a unique experience with each visit.”

After years of success in its original location (on University Ave), Beer Lab recently opened a new location in Central Oahu (Waipio). Tucked into a business park, it is Central Oahu’s first (and currently only) brewery and its location close to the H1/H2 junction makes it a great stop on the way to or from the North Shore.

If you’re looking for craft beer on Kauai, start here. Located in Lihue, Kauai Beer Company is one of two breweries on Kauai (Kauai Island Brewing being the other) and, in my opinion, it’s one of the top breweries in the state, offering a super-solid lineup of flagship beers: Lihue Lager, Black Limousine Lager, Beer Co IPA, and Tropical Armadillo Oatmeal Pale Ale.

The brewpub’s setting is spot on for what you want in a local brewery, the beer tanks visible through a small window just beyond the bar. Don’t skip out on the food: The menu is solid with a collection of sandwiches (like the Rice Street Reuben), specialty poutine-style fries, and house-made macaroni and cheese. Kohola Brewery (Maui)

If you’re looking for a slice of local life in Lahaina on Maui’s west coast, pop into Kohola Brewery, the newest brewery on Maui.

For a small, 25-barrel establishment, it has a surprisingly large rotation of beers, including an American pale ale, American lager, rye IPA, American wheat, and German pilsner.

Just as important as the beer is the setting of the small brewery, which its owners see as a distinct selling point (when compared to some of the bigger breweries around the islands). Located in a warehouse that’s part pub and part brewhouse, you get the full feel of a locally-run craft brewery.

“You come inside here, and you have this awesome feeling where you see the brewery, you see where the production is being done and you have the founders and owners here working it,” part-owner Christine Elumba said. “It’s really our heart and soul.”

Ola Brew is an employee and community owned brewery whose mission is to increase the local agricultural economy through sourcing Hawai'i-grown ingredients and incorporating them into their beverages. The brewery has organically driven the beyond beer space in Hawai'i as the first locally produced hard seltzer and hard teas while also brewing up delicious beers and hard ciders. True to their mission, Ola Brew has sourced and purchased over $1.2M in local agriculture since their inception in December 2017.

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