When my job presented the opportunity to travel to Kauai for five days of training, I jumped at the chance to go. Besides a little (and very much needed) beach time, I’d also get the chance to do something I’ve wanted to do ever since reading Scott’s review of Kona Pipeline Coffee Porter (and enjoying a six pack of this great brew) – tour the Kona Brewing Company Brewery on the Big Island of Hawaii.
Kona Brewing Company products are ubiquitous throughout the 50th state – the way Bud or Coors neon signs, mirrors, etc. are seen in the mainland, same with Kona Brewing Company in Hawaii. So many bars are adorned with surfboards, neon, etc.
Prior to this trip, I had only sampled the Pipeline Porter, so I was looking forward to trying the various products whenever possible, especially those not available on the mainland.
The first two I sampled were Duke’s Blonde Ale and the very popular Longboard Lager. Both are great warm weather thirst quenchers (fortunately, Hawaii’s weather cooperated!) and while not the most exciting beverages, are good introductions to a craft brewery for the macro- drinkers out there.
Next I had the Lavaman Red Ale. This pours a nice red color with a minimal head that leaves nice lacing on the glass. Lavaman Red has a hoppy aroma but a more citrusy taste with no hop bitterness. This drank very smoothly and is a good example of the Red Ale style.
Castaway IPA is the last beer I had before traveling to the Big Island. This pours a golden amber color and has a very fruity finish. The aroma is very hoppy, and the taste is more of grapefruit than of hops. No bitterness at all. I wasn’t sure that this was an IPA, it’s that smooth. This does pack a punch as it is 7% ABV.
My hotel in Kailua-Kona was within walking distance of the Kona Brewing Company Brewery. There was a reason for this – I wanted to have dinner at the Kona Pub and Brewery in the evening and return the next day for the tour. I knew I needed to be responsible, as we all should, and didn’t want to drive after dinner.
A friend who works on Hawaii had told me about the secret “binder full of beer” (bet Mitt Romney doesn’t have one of these) that is available in addition to the beers regularly featured on the menu. The night I was there, the binder beers were Rift Zone Indigenous Red Ale, Ohi Fresh Hop Pale Ale, Steam Vent Hybrid Lager, Lemongrass Luau.
I didn’t know where to begin! Since I’m an IPA fan, I first had the Pacifier. Wow, this is everything I expect in an IPA – hoppy, piney, herby, citrusy, whatever term you’ve seen applied to an IPA, this was it.
Pacifier, like the other beers in the binder, is a seasonal edition. If this were sold on the east coast, I’d buy it by the case. The best comparison is Mammoth EPIC IPA, my favorite of the style. It’s a crying shame that these fantastic brews are distributed in such limited areas.
After dinner (a great veggie pizza with lots of garlic), I enjoyed the Lemongrass Luau. The write-up calls this a “Blonde ale brewed with wheat, turbinado sugar, and fresh Big Island ginger and lemongrass.” I’m not a huge fan of wheat beers, but the ginger intrigued me enough to try it. I’d classify this as more of a shandy. The sugar and lemongrass add a nice sweetness, which was countered by the bite of the ginger. A very complex flavor and very well done. This would be my summer go-to beer if available locally.
Brewery tours are offered at 10:30am and 3:00pm daily, are limited to 15 people, and are available “first come, first served.” Kristi, the very tattooed guide, has two speeds, “fast” and “off” but presented lots of information I didn’t know. For one, the Kailua-Kona facility only produces kegs, barrels, etc., for distribution within Hawaii. Since becoming part of the Craft Brew Alliance, Kona Brewing Company beers are bottled on the mainland by Red Hook and Widmer Brothers which oddly means that KBC bottles consumed in Hawaii are “imported” from the mainland.
Kona Brewing Company is the 13th largest craft brewery in the United States and the largest in Hawaii. (Yes, Hawaii has several other breweries including Maui Brewing Company and Hawaii Nui Brewing.)
After the 45 minute tour, guests sample four beers. Three of the four our group had are Lavaman Red, Lemongrass Luau, and Rift Zone Red. I was too busy talking about Troegs to a fellow guest to hear the name of the fourth beer. Doh! If I didn’t have to drive to the airport to fly from Kona to Honolulu and home I would have stayed longer and sampled more of the pub-only available beers.
Fortunately, there is a Kona Brewing Company Pub located at the Honolulu International Airport, so I got to try one more product, the Koko Brown Ale. My Hawaiian friend said that Koko Brown is brewed with coconut and she wasn’t kidding. Koko Brown smells and tastes like toasted coconut.
One might think that the combination of beer and coconut could be cloying or artificial, but since pumpkin, blueberry, other fruit and natural flavors are added to beer, why not coconut? The result is amazing and this brown ale would be a perfect dessert beer with a slice of New York cheesecake or a dish of vanilla ice cream. Koko Brown Ale is best consumed cold and the sweetness of the coconut and malt flavor of the beer balance each other perfectly.
Koko Brown Ale *is* available on the mainland and a six-pack will be in my fridge real soon. With every sip, I’ll think about my trip to Hawaii.
To quote the Zac Brown Band island-inspired song “Toes,” “I got my toes in the water, toes in the sand, not a worry in the world, a cold beer in my hand,” that cold beer just may be a bottle of Koko Brown Ale. Life is good today, life is good today.