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Beer of the Week: The Beers of Hawai’i

Hawaii conjures thoughts of mai tais, guava juice, pina coladas, maybe even pineapple wine from Maui.

But beer?

When we go to the beach, we want to look trim and fit from coconut water diets, not the beer belly gut.

However, it can’t get much better than a can of Maui Brewing Co.’s Big Swell IPA on the beach. The Lahaina based brewery has followed the likes of Oskar Blues and 21st Amendment in producing their beers in cans to avoid direct sunlight, a key skill in Hawai’, preserving the beer better from brewery to consumption. The other great part of canned beer, not too important in Colorado or San Francisco, is that they are safe to enjoy on the beach (no glass!).

That Big Swell IPA is a perfect rendition of the genre, complex and refreshing, without too many hops at just 50 IBU. The most intriguing beer is the CoConut Porter, a little lighter than the typical porter. Lots of coffee notes involved and a touch of coconut that makes the porter seem a bit sweeter in the end. Maui Brewing also makes a Bikini Blonde Munich helles style lager and the Mana Wheat Ale infused with pineapple. Pineapple, coconut…this is Hawaii beer.

The most well known Hawaii brewery is the Kona Brewing Co. on the Big Island. The Fire Rock Pale is an excellent refresher, crisp, almost like an amber ale. Unfortunately the Lavaman Red Ale is very vague, lacking any defining taste. Kona Brewing Co. exports its Longboard Island Lager to the mainland, available everywhere from Von’s in my college town of Claremont, CA to the O.Co Coliseum in Oakland, home of the Oakland A’s…I’ll probably avoid this lager because of its connotation for me with the truck garage that is the Coliseum. Other beers from Kona include the Wailua Wheat, the Pipeline Porter, and the Big Wave Golden Ale.

The islands’ newest and largest craft brewery is Hawai’i Nui, in Hilo on the Big Island, which also bottles for Mehana Brewing. Mehana makes an award winning Mauna Kea Pale Ale, Volcano Red Ale (sense a trend in the naming…), Humpback Golden Ale, and the A’lala Hawaiian Crow Porter. Hawai’i Nui crafts an exceptional Hapa Brown Ale, much more robust than a Newcastle, but not heavy, very deserving of its World Beer Cup Silver Medal in 2010 and the winner in 2010 in the U.S. Open Beer Championship for American Brown Ales. I enjoyed the slight notes of toast and a very good head to start off the pint. Other beers from Hawai’i Nui include the Kauai Golden Ale, Sunset Amber Ale, Southern Cross Belgian Style Double Red Ale (can you memorize that), and the Tsunami IPA, a big wave of hops.

Kauai used to have a west shore microbrewery in the Waimea Brewing Co., but its equipment has been sold to new owners and will open shop very soon nearby in Port Allen…that will have to wait until the next Kauai trip.

In the land of mai tais, the craft brewery movement has arrived, perfect when its time for a pint on the beach or afterwards watching the sunset.

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