Faithful readers may recall that your globetrotting liquor reporter is sunning (and sinning) himself on the beach in Hawaii all month, making the cold and snowy climes of Alberta nothing but a dim and rapidly fading memory.
After indulging myself on every flavour of Mai Tai (and beach bunny) to be found on the Big Island, your humble narrator was on the lookout for a new tipple.
After a nerve-jarring tsunami warning due to an earthquake off the BC coast sent the beach bunnies scurrying for higher ground, your intrepid liquor reporter decided that all the frozen blender drinks were too high-maintenance for an island that might soon be lacking electricity, so I went to stock up on local beer.
As part of the USA, megabrews like Budweiser and Coors Lite can be found at every corner store, but your beer snob of a liquor columnist turns up his nose at that sort of fizzy yellow water, preferring to seek out the more flavourful craft brews made by artisan brewers who still take pride in their work.
As luck would have it, my hotel was less than a mile from the Kona Brewing Company, a craft brewery started up in 1994 by a father & son team who had recently moved to Hawaii from Oregon.
The beer nerds in the audience may recognize the state of Oregon as the 2nd-largest producer of beer hops in North America, trailing only their neighbouring state of Washington.
As luck would have it, the father & son team were home brewers before they moved to Hawaii, and their new island neighbours quickly convinced them to quit their day jobs and open a commercial brewery.
Now, almost 20 years later, the original owners have sold their stake and retired full-time to the beach, but the fine tasting craft beer is still pouring from the taps.
With a dozen different styles on tap at the restaurant attached to the brewery, as well as bottles and kegs available across the island, your humble narrator was never too far from a frosty cold one.
Feeling obligated by the locale, your humble narrator even tried a few of the light lager beers with surfboards on the label, before retreating to the tried-and-true darker ales with their more robust flavours.
The Lavaman Red Ale is an homage to the lava rock formations that make up most of the Hawaiian islands, and is a fine example of the American Amber style of beer. The medium reddish hue is about the same colour as a Rickard’s Red, but the similarities stop there.
The Lavaman Red Ale had a bready full-grained aroma, well balanced with an astringent hop flavour and rich malty finish. This is a session beer to drink all night, which is exactly what I did one fine evening on the beach.
The beach bunny I was chatting up at the time preferred the Hula Hefeweizen, a cloudy wheat beer with hula dancers in grass skirts on the label. I didn’t order a glass myself, but the flavours I got off the lips of the aforementioned beach bunny were of a medium-bodied brew with notes of banana and cloves, and only mild bitterness. The banana/clove flavour is very common in wheat beers, due to a special yeast strain that ferments wheat proteins.
After working my way through all of the dozen beer styles over the course of a few days on the beach, the Koko Brown was my all-time favourite. Made in the style of an English Brown Ale with roasted coconut added during the brewing process for a nutty and tropical kick. In fact, I might just try to whip up a batch of this in my homebrew setup when I return to the land of eternal winter next week.
Perhaps fearing the all-too-common acquisitions and consolidations in the beer industy, Kona Brewing has formed the Craft Brewers Alliance with a few other microbreweries in the USA, sharing both distribution and marketing efforts, as well as contract brewing of each other’s brands.
Through this partnership, Kona beers are brewed in Portland by Widmer Brothers, and in New Hampshire by Red Hook Brewing, making for easy distribution in the continental US market.
Sadly, they are not yet distributed in Canada, so this might just be the push you need to take a Hawaiian vacation!