Hawaii is different; so is its beer. Here, your brew may have hints of more than just the standard barley, malt and hops. Scents of pineapple, coconut, or even lilikoi are likely to enhance the flavor of your pint. “We love our local farmers,” says Garrett Marrero, CEO of Maui Brewing Company. If it’s in season, it will probably be in our beers.” Maui Brewing Company uses local strawberries, macadamia nuts, lavender, Maui onion, guava, mango, and even Kula pumpkin and poha berries as part of their brewing process. “They all bring a fruity, lively taste to the beer that others can’t match.”
Hawaii is awash with fruity, fun concoctions such as the Blue Hawaii, the Mai Tai and the Vicious Virgin. Superb, locally made liquors like Koloa and Old Lahaina Rums, and Kai and Ocean Vodkas, are the ehukai, the heart, of these drinks. And if these colorful libations, calling for attention with their shapely glasses, printed umbrellas and wedges of tropical produce, are the aloha wear at island cocktail hours, consider going casual with perhaps the most refreshing local drink of all: beer.
With many awards over the years from Toronto to Australia, Maui Brewing Co. appears to be unstoppable. The largest brewery in Hawaii, they now have distributors in 11 lucky states as well. Their 2011 United States Open Beer silver-champion, Bikini Blonde Lager, is bold and smooth, with famed Pilsner and Munich malts giving it some heft. For those curious about drinking a porter in Hawaii, fret not: it works! The flavors of CoCoNut Porter are terrifically fresh. Think of it as a snack in a cup—kind of a cross between pupu (appetizer) and dessert. The dark malt, chocolate, barley, coconut, and a hint of coffee are all components of this amazing concoction. MBC’s Big Swell IPA is brewed with four different hops from the northwest, plus malted barley. The flavor is smooth and has a big malty-grainy finish. For a light, fruit taste, MBC adds a touch of Maui Gold pineapple to American-style wheat ale to make crisp, sweet lightly hopped Mana Wheat.
In Hilo (Big Island of Hawaii), Hawaii Nui Brewing is a standout. Its velvety Hapa Brown Ale, winner of the Gold Medal for American Brown Ale at the 2010 U.S. Open Beer Championships, is rich in flavor, with delightful hints of chocolate and caramel—perfect with full-bodied fish dishes. Hawaii Nui’s Mauna Kea Pale Ale is that kind of overall refreshing brew that tops off a day at the beach with an “aaah” and a smile. Sunset Amber Ale, true to its name, pours a lovely burnished color and offers malt, caramel and autumn nut flavors. Southern Cross Belgian Style Double Red Ale, with a complex blend of aromas with nuts, caramel and citrus, is very hoppy, a little bitter and heavy, like a porter.
Hawaii Nui also adds some color to their lineup with their Mehana brand Humpback Blue and Volcano Red Ales. The Humpback Blue, a golden-orange with a big head, is very carbonated—a head’s up to the pourer: do it carefully—and a refreshing, yet peppery, bite. More assertive in flavor, their Volcano Red Ale will kickstart any balmy island evening. The aroma is very grainy with hints of fruit and citrus. The palate is crisp but appropriately rich.
Kona Brewing, though not brewed locally, is imminently popular in the Islands, along the California coastline, and is now even sold at some U.S. East Coast locales. Their premier brew is the very popular Big Wave Golden Ale, which is light and fruity. Longboard Island Lager, the surf party staple, has a malty body and hops aroma, and a touch of spiciness. Kona’s Fire Rock Pale Ale is made with a blend of four roasted malts, which give it its gorgeous copper color. The bouquet contains citrus and white flowers, with minor pineapple sweetness. It is wonderfully drinkable, and among the author’s favorites. Crisp and fruity tasting, Wailua Wheat is a delicate, light ale brimming with citrus and lilikoi flavors. The repetition of the word “brown” in Koko Brown Nut Brown Ale gives fair warning to its deep, rich color and coppery head. Real coconuts used in the brew process yield a wonderfully coco-nutty flavor, with tastes of toffee and chocolate and a pronounced malt body. Even heartier is Kona’s Pipeline Porter, its roast-bean aroma preceding a smooth, earthy pour that looks and tastes dark. Look for local beers at restaurants and markets island-wide.