It's All about the Birds and the Beer at Maui Brewing Co.
We’re sitting at a community table at Maui Brewing Co. on a Friday evening. The restaurant is full with people flowing out the front door, jockeying to add their names to a waitlist. The crowd surprises me. The Kahana Gateway Center is a mild-mannered shopping center at the northwestern end of Honoapiilani Highway in West Maui—beyond the scene of Lahaina, beyond the energy of Kaanapali.
There are nine of us at our table. Appetizers of Beer Battered Onion Rings and Hot Wings tossed in Bikini Blonde Ale sauce make their way around the table. I secretly wish someone had ordered the Fried Mac Balls, but I’ve already eaten enough cheese on this four-day trip to Maui.
It’s the beer that draws people here. Maui Brewing Co. is known for its four signature beers: Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, Coconut Porter, and Mana Wheat. In fact, many of those beers can be found—in environmentally-friendly cans—throughout the U.S. Mainland and beyond to Asia and Europe. We are sitting under an oversized chalkboard with listings of some two dozen different beers on tap, ranging in alcohol content from 4.5 to 10.8%.
As I gaze at the board, a waitperson walks up and writes “OUT” next to one selection.
I’m not a beer aficionado, but even I can tell the people around here are serious about their beer.
Maui Brewing Co. got its start in 2005, making handcrafted ales and lagers on Maui—and brewed with aloha, as their cans say. They’ve won state, national and international awards. And, in spring 2013 announced a new production facility—complete with tasting room—and a second brewpub in the works for Kihei.
Yeah, I’d say they’re serious about their beer.
But, like I said, I’m not a big beer person. Oh, sure, I like a cold one after a day of hiking or paddling a kayak. But my tastes hover around the lager side of things—nothing too hoppy, nothing too bitter. When I confess this to my waitperson, a woman whose name I never could remember but who knew my name and the names the other eight around our long table, she suggests one of their seasonal beers—the Oktoberfest—and I order it. And like it.
There are other seasonal beers on the menu. And limited edition releases. Many made with local ingredients like coconut, pineapple, and passion fruit. Even breadfruit. Plus, Maui Brewing Co. sponsors a homebrew contest, and the 2013 winning brew is the 10.8% concoction, made with hints of raspberry and chocolate, listed as Craven’s Tripel on the chalkboard. The creator happens to be sitting at our table. He sips his winning entry in a brandy snifter—as he should. He offers me a sip, and I imagine Craven’s Triple to be an appropriate post-prandial beverage that “the most interesting man in the world” would drink--when he wasn’t drinking Dos Equis.
The folks behind Maui Brewing Co., Garrett and Melanie Marrero, may be serious about their beer, but the vibe about the place isn’t a rowdy one. Families gather at smaller tables and children are provided with art supplies. Sure, there are TVs, echoing a sports bar, but on this night, a nature film runs.
And that brings me to why I am here—in a beer pub in a quiet shopping center in West Maui.
On the opposite side of the island, high up in the mountains, a small group of dedicated biologists works long and hard hours to save a handful of native forest birds, the stalwarts that have managed to stave off extinction. For now. You’ve probably never seen these small birds, all honeycreepers, and you might go the rest of your life without ever seeing one. They are found in the remote, high country of Maui where few people ever venture.
The first Friday evening of every month, Maui Brewing Co. donates 50% of the proceeds of pints sold to a non-profit. On this night, as it has been on a quarterly basis for four years, the Maui Forest Bird Recovery Project is the recipient of the company’s community giving-back program. In addition to the financial contribution, the night provides a venue for the general public to learn about, say, the endangered kiwikiu, a small, brownish honeycreeper numbering approximately 500 individuals in the wild. Or, perhaps, the distinctive akohekohe with its orange nape and white, tufted forehead.
The Senegalese poet Baba Dioum is quoted as saying, “In the end, we will conserve only what we love. We will love only what we understand. We will understand only what we are taught.”
Well, the more I learn about Maui Brewing Co., the more I love the idea of becoming an avid beer connoisseur. The brewery’s belief in social responsibility adds another tasty ingredient to its beer. You could call it a love for the place--Maui. And, dang, wouldn’t you know it. That’s exactly what it says on their beer cans: Brewed with aloha.
It took me all night, but I get it. I understand. And I love the idea that a beer brewed along the coastline of Maui can help save birds living in the high forests of Haleakala.
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