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A New Reason to Visit Hawaii: the Craft Beer

Great local brews are flowing in paradise. Here’s where to tap the scene.

November 30, 2016

By Tom Gierasimczuk

You can excuse the tardiness of the Hawaiian Islands in joining North America’s craft beer boom. The archipelago is the most remote state in the union—and about 5,000 kilometres from Yakima’s hop vines. But it’s this isolation and urgency of food security that has for the past decade fuelled a near-zealous dedication to strengthening the local supply chain, creating thousands of new jobs and, more importantly to visiting palates, intense, fresh flavours only made possible by farm-to-table that doesn’t involve a side trip in a cargo airliner.

The state’s 10-plus (and growing) breweries are just an extension of local preference for products (in the patois of passionate producers and the locals that feast on their bounty) that are “grown here, not flown here.” That authenticity is particularly resonant around Hawaiian beer, given that mainland bottles adorned with tribal tattoos and postcard Hawaiiana are brewed in suburban Massachusetts or Orange County, with little more than six-point type acknowledging the ruse.

So get real on your next trip to Oahu or Maui and check out Hawaii’s best, newest, and most interesting craft breweries.

Island Hopping
Hawaii’s best craft breweries are located on the two islands most frequented by Vancouverites. Now boarding: your buzz.

Oahu

Honolulu Beerworks
Ignore the warm winds and fragrant hibiscus and this two-year-old brewery could pass for a neighbourhood brew pub in East Van—in the best possible way. A storage warehouse in the revitalized Kaka’ako neighbourhood hosts locals at communal picnic-style tables on any given evening, but most importantly their beer selection has no fewer than a dozen year-round styles ranging from barley beers to best-of-breed IPAs and mind-blowing saisons.

Drink: One of the brewery’s collaborations with Portland or Seattle craft brewers.

Waikiki Brewing Company
A welcoming, open-air space makes it easy for a quick beer to turn into five at this new brewery, especially with favourites like the not-as-gross-as-it-sounds Jalapeño Mouth Amber Ale among its nine brews. A year in, it’s expanding to taps across the city while remaining based in the banquet room at Honolulu’s Cheeseburger Restaurant—with all the culinary benefits of said alliance.

Drink: The Black Strap Molasses Porter, with flavours of coffee, chocolate, and vanilla.

waikiki
Waikiki Brewing Company

Home of the Brave Brewing Co.
This may just be the weirdest brew pub you’ll ever visit—and not just on the Islands. The room is both neighbourhood hangout and a military museum with the largest private collection of World War II artifacts in the Pacific, donated by veterans and their families. And if you’re going to have a war museum as a brewery, you may as well also open a brewseum, which also exists on site.

Drink: Remember Pearl Harbor Dark Lager while humming Born in the USA.

Lanikai Brewing Co.
On Lanikai Beach in Kailua, another one-year-old is turning heads locally and abroad. The small tasting room may only be open Thursdays to Sundays, and the brewery might only have two flagship beers, but their focus on quality and local provenance is winning it praise. The potent 808 Imperial IPA, infused with local pikake flowers, and the Pillbox Porter, a velvety, chocolate porter brewed with Hawaiian and Tahitian vanilla, may just be the most Hawaiian beers you can drink.

Drink: Both flagships, because less is definitely more here.

Maui

Koholā Brewery
Koholā Brewery (meaning whale in Hawaiian) was only the second brewery on Maui when it was created by six partners from the mainland six months ago. So, naturally, their largest “competitor,” Maui Brewing Company, sold them equipment and offered them space. That’s island life for you. The room’s steel-clad interior and warm wood decor complement outstanding beer, with the usual brew on offer executed with premium hops from the U.S. like Citra and Simcoe, along with European imports like Mandarina and Bavaria.

Drink: Both the Light and Mighty versions of 88 RyePA, named for the largest whale ever measured (88-feet long).

maui
Maui Brewing

Maui Brewing
The largest independent brewery in the state celebrated its 10-year anniversary with a new brewery in residential Kihei Town late last year, while still keeping thirsty tourists satisfied with the original Kaanapali brew pub. The brewery offers tours, a kid-friendly tasting room, and scheduled food truck visits. With an impressive menu focused on local products—even the condiments are made in house—Maui Brewing has the most variety of any brewery on the Islands.

Drink: The tap-only Mosaic Mo Betta Double IPA is quickly becoming a favourite for visiting hop heads. The pine and citrus hide the 8.2 ABV while somehow remaining refreshing and quaffable.

Where to sleep it off

On Oahu: The Royal Hawaiian

No other hotel on the kinetic and increasingly dense Waikiki strip feels so private, isolated and authentically old school. Perhaps it’s because The Pink Palace (as the Royal Hawaiian has been known since the days of the steam ships) is one of the oldest resorts here, celebrating 90 years of serving royalty, Hollywood and captains of industry next year. But it’s not resting on its storied rep: the 17-story Mailani Tower was re-opened last year as a resort-within-a-resort, with complimentary daily continental breakfast, evening appetizers and beverages—yes even boozy ones—covered in the price of a room. Best part? The property is right in the centre of Oahu’s beer scene. royal-hawaiian.com

On Maui: The Westin Kä‘anapali Ocean Resort Villas

Located on North Ka’anapali Beach, the large villa-type rooms are tucked between the bath-warm Pacific Ocean and the lush West Maui Mountains. The Westin is also within a quick cab ride to either Maui Brewing’s local pub just to the north or Kohola Brewery to the south. Or if you feel like hanging with your family, let them play in the dozen pools or snorkel the teeming reef while you pull up a stool at the new Pailolo Bar and Grill, where they proudly pour local nectars all day—with a much better view than any tasting room. westinkaanapali.com

Originally published July 8, 2016

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