Bring on Honolulu's Craft Brews!

Aug 11, 2017

The national Brewers’ Association cites 14 breweries in Hawai‘i in 2016, that’s up from seven in 2011. The last five years have seen phenomenal growth in interest in craft beers, with even convenience stores stocking more adventurous brands. Dave Power, with Southern Glazers’ Wine and Spirits, a national liquor distribution company, says unique beers turn up in Hawai‘i just because distributors enjoy the relationship. That makes for great beer drinking in Honolulu.
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Craft brewing is changing the social scene here in Honolulu.  The national Brewers Association lists fourteen breweries in the Islands, with four breweries in Kaka‘ako alone.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa offers  this first installment in a swing through that scene. 

Dave Campbell of Aloha Beer Company on Queen Street started making beer when he was in high school. He and his wife started Honolulu’s first homebrew supply store in Waikīkī, and he’s helped open at least two local breweries before Aloha. A local spirits professional told me the beer Campbell and brewer Kaiao Archer make at Aloha is world class.
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Craft brew establishments, and now, breweries themselves are changing the local social and manufacturing scene.  HPR’s Noe Tanigawa looks at their history on O‘ahu in the first part of a series on local craft brewing.

“I love Kaka‘ako.  My wife and I started our first business in Kaka‘ako 25 years ago, O‘ahu Homebrew Supply.”  We’ve caught Brew Master Dave Campbell at his latest venture, Aloha Beer Company, on Queen Street across Lex Brodie. 

Campbell:  My father-in-law actually leased this very building from ’74, he used to make suntan lotion here until the late ‘80’s, early 90’s.  It’s really serendipity that it all came together like that.

Aloha Beer Company has three comfy beer drinking zones, the “carport” pictured here in front, and a tap room with a pub like vibe inside of that. Through an unmarked door Diamond Head of the carport, you can go upstairs to the speakeasy, all burgundy walls and leather chairs, with mounted antelope head, and all.
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Campbell started building Aloha about two years ago, after helping open Beer Works around the corner on Cooke Street.  Campbell was originally involved with Sam Choy’s which became Big Aloha Brewery, then Aloha, then folded.  Now Campbell and one of the original partners from Aloha have created Aloha Beer Company.

Campbell:  We’re in the historical brewing center of Hawai‘i.  Back in the day you had two big breweries locally.  You had Honolulu Brewing and Malting which brewed Primo and they started in the red brick building right down the road.  During Prohibition the building went to C. Q. Yee Hop.  After the repeal of prohibition, Honolulu Brewing and Malting moved up to the corner of Cooke and Kapi‘olani, right there. American Brewing Company took over the red brick building where the fire station is.  You had two big breweries, you had Primo being brewed on the corner of Cooke and Kapi‘olani  and you had Royal beer being brewed on  Queen Street right down the road. 

Royal was pau before I was born, but my dad used to drink Primo when I was a little kid and at that point it was brewed in Pearl City. 

Campbell says Primo and Royal were unremarkable beers. 

Campbell:  But you know, during the war years, one, you wouldn’t get beers coming in from the mainland, and two, you had a swelled population of servicemen. These two breweries were cranking to keep up with the demand.  The bulk of all the beer in the islands was brewed right here, a block that way, and a block that way.

The current red brick Honolulu Fire Department Museum was once a brewery, first  Honolulu Brewing and 

Jonathan whips out a food order at Aloha Beer, where Robert McGee of The Whole Ox is resident chef, and food is a focus. Both Aloha and Waikīkī Brewing have food trucks in their warehouse spaces instead of commercial kitchens.
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Malting, then American Brewing Company.  What happened to them?

Campbell:  Transportation, containerized shipping came in and made it easy for breweries to ship here to Hawai‘i. The reason that allowed for a big production brewery like Primo, went away.   After the war, when other brands made it back to Hawai‘i  people’s memories were like, remember how bad the beer was during the war years?  Which wasn’t fair because they sacrificed quality to get the production up.  But afterwards there was a bit of a backlash.

Campbell:  Royal staggered, they lasted until 1961 or ‘62 but, changing times, you had more products from the mainland, and especially with containerized shipping in the late ‘60’s, allowed  for all kinds of stuff to make it to Hawai‘i.  But this is the region where the beer was made, Kaka‘ako.

Campbell:  At one point there was nothing locally brewed.  Honolulu Brewing and Malting was acquired by Schlitz, and for a while they were making it on the mainland, then they were sending back concentrated brewer’s wort.  They’d make the beginning of what becomes beer on the mainland, concentrate it, send these 55 gallons drums here, reconstitute them and call it Primo.  Then Primo opened out in Pearl City behind Cutter ford ‘Aiea.  Behind there they had a brewery and a little Hawaiian village, done up all Gilligan’s Island style.

Tim Golden’s Beer in Hawai‘i blog helped knit the craft brew scene together for the last several years. He and partner Daryn Ogino opened Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room in Salt, Kaka‘ako, where five hundred curated craft beers can tasted and bought by the bottle.
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Generally, local breweries suffered.  National chain Gordon Biersch came in, and remains, but for locally owned craft beer, Sam Choy’s brewed Big Aloha, Hawaiian Islands popped up on Ala Moana, Pacific Breach surfaced briefly, but Tim Golden, whose Beer in Hawai‘i blog has boosted the scene, says times were tough.

Golden:  Just think about it, five years ago had a couple operating breweries and they all shut down within a couple months of each other.  O‘ahu in particular had no operating breweries that were locally owned and operated.  A lot of things lined up nicely over the past five years.  It wasn’t necessarily one thing happening that sparked a growing interest.  A lot of different things just strategically happened at the same time. 

The take-home selection at Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room. The shop uses an app that tells you which beers are being poured at any given time--- and how much is left, if you don’t want to miss a taste. A very satisfied liquor distiller told me it is amazing to be able to taste and purchase beer at this level here.
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Golden:  Within the year of 2012-2013, Real, a Gastro pub opened up and they really focused on bringing in a beer line up that constantly rotated.  Then Honolulu Brewing opened up and you really can’t have a great beer town without breweries.  Breweries are the cornerstone of building a beer culture because they’re making beer, people can walk in and see the tanks and see the brewers, and they’re getting creative.  I always call local breweries like local sports teams because you get attached to them and you find favorites, and that’s where you go to.  Similar to if you’re in New York, you’re either a Jets or a Giants fan right?  I think with local breweries there’s that same sort of feeling, and people like to go pau hana at one versus another but people like to jump to all of them right?

The second branch of Waikīkī Brewing Company has just opened in the former Fresh Café site on Queen in Kaka‘ako. The pub area is outside and in front, with a clear view of the brewing tanks through the bar. Their first brew will be their Aloha Spirit Blonde, an easy drinking beer. Waikīkī will be able to can beer for distribution around the island from this location.
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Golden has partnered with Daryn Ogino to open Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room in Salt, Kaka‘ako.  They’ve got over 500 curated beers to taste, with take home bottles available.  He says, a critical mass of beer lovers, many honed through college experiences in Seattle, Portland, San Diego, and Bend now seek out our local brews.

Many of them will be circling for parking in Kaka‘ako tonight.  Waikīkī Brewing opened its second location on Queen Street just one week ago (August 4, 2017) and its first batch of beer will be on tap today.  It was brewed yesterday right there on premises.

Coming up, more about local beer, brewing and its economic impact. 

Waikīkī Brewing Company on Queen Street, Kakaako.
Credit noe tanigawa