Feature: Hawaiian Beers


I was just in Hawaii for some serious off-season down time. I even left my bike at home so I’d be forced to do other activities. One of those activities happens to be a favorite pastime – taste and drink beer! Tropical island happy hour often consists of fruity drinks with those little umbrellas like a tangy Mai Tai or a creamy Piña Colada straight out of a pineapple. I made sure to enjoy the island drinks, but I felt it was more appropriate to try the native malt n’ hop sodas!

I focused on the two breweries I was most familiar with: Maui Brewing and Kona Brewing Company. There are 3 other small batch breweries of which I did not get the pleasure of tasting their beer, Hawaii Nuii Brewing (located in Hilo), Primo Brewing (Honolulu) and Aloha Beer Company (Honolulu).

Maybe it was just being in tropical paradise in November, but after just one sip of beer my Shaka hand shot straight up. It’s the Hawaiian fist pump! So without further adieu, here’s my beta on the tasty adult beverages.

Kona Brewing:

Big Wave Golden Ale
This was a refreshing beach beer! I tend to shy away from lagers which tend to be a beach beer favorite. I was thrilled to find something else that gave me some flavor without being too much. The nose smelled fruity – peaches and oranges. The moderate carbonation was refreshing. There was a surprising subtle hop flavor at first taste and a clean citrusy finish. It was easy to drink so I was glad I packed more than one in the cooler. The bottle said “Liquid Aloha!” I like the way Aloha tastes!

Pipeline Porter
Coffee porter lovers will love this one. I certainly did! With a reasonable ABV of 5.4%, you can imbibe in a couple without getting too obnoxious. This medium to full-bodied beer boasted strong coffee and dark chocolate notes. It’s made with 100% Kona coffee that was prominent in flavor. Some porters fail because they are too sweet, but not this one! It gave me coffee and beer breath – forgivable at first kiss?

Fire Rock Pale Ale
I find that a lot of IPAs have too much malt. I like to taste the hops and I don’t enjoy overly sweet or bready beer. While the Fire Rock is NOT an IPA, it drinks like one. The floral hops lead the taste of this beer without having the IBUs of an IPA. It had very nice flavor with a caramel finish. This was my favorite of the Kona Brewing options I tasted, but was close in competition with the porter. Had it been a bit cooler outside, I think the porter would have taken the cake.

Koko Brown
I did not find the Koko Brown at any of the liquor stores, but I did find it at the Honolulu airport at the Kona Brewing Restaurant. I had one last hurrah before catching a red eye flight back to the mainland. What better sedative than a couple brews? It also gave me the chance to taste this brown, and also have the Fire Rock Pale on tap. I was not impressed with the Koko Brown. It was way too sweet for my liking. The nose was caramel and surprisingly bourbon scented. It tasted of sweet roasted coconut and brown sugar with a nutty finish. I think this beer would be great for someone who likes dark beer, but does not like hops.

Maui Brewing:

Next up was Maui Brewing. While I got to visit the island of Maui, I was disappointed that I didn’t make it to the brewery. The Maui beers are great because they come in a can so they are easily portable. However, they run on the pricey side. 9 bucks for a 4 pack of the porter! I’m happy to pay high dollar for, say, a 4 pack of Odell Myrcenary Double IPA!

Coconut Porter
I had tasted the Coconut Porter somewhere along the belt notch holes of beer tasting some time ago. I like the can art, it said the beer is “like hot chicks on the beach.” Straight out of the fridge, the coffee is more pronounced and after a few minutes as the beer warms up, the toasted coconut flavor becomes more pronounced. This beer has good balance and the coconut is not overpowering in flavor or sweetness.

Big Swell IPA
I took surf lessons finished my morning with an ice cold Big Swell on the beach. This IPA is a little maltier than I would like. The hop character is short lived with a bit of hoppiness when you first taste it, but then the malt and breadiness overpower any hops. I wasn’t a huge fan of this IPA because normally I like a more complex hop character. This would be a good place to start for IPA neophytes trying to acquire a hophead addiction!

About the author: Sonya Looney

It’s energy and attitude that have propelled World Champion Sonya Looney on a mountain bike across the rugged Himalayas, through sweltering sand dunes of the Sahara Desert, and through the clammy jungles of Sri Lanka. Sonya Looney is an adventure traveler on a bike seeking out the hardest races in the most remote, beautiful, and interesting places in the world. She believes in pushing limits because that’s when you realize you are far more capable than ever imagined. Sonya is also a professional speaker, keynoting at large conferences and has spoken at TEDx. Don't let her accolades fool you though, she loves craft beer and joking around. Follow her on social media!

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  • Garrett says:

    Aloha Sonya, Mahalo for the quick blurbs. Glad you enjoyed your trip to Hawaii. I thought its worth mentioning that if you tried just Maui Brewing and Kona Brewing, you only tried one “hawaiian beer”. Of all the beers in your picture, just the Maui Brewing is made in Hawaii. As far as cost, when you use natural coconut, toasted in house, and actually produce beer in Hawaii, there is a far greater cost. To us, authenticity and quality is worth it. All bottles of Kona come from the mainland and are brewed by CBA. Primo is brewed by Miller Coors. Aloha Lager bottles are brewed by Gordon Biersch in San Jose. Hawaii Nui is indeed a local brewery.

    And I adore Myrcenary and my friends at Odells. Little known fact, we have 4 of their fermenters that we bought when they built their big expansion. Cheers.

    • Sonya says:

      Thanks Garrett! Someone else told me that Kona is not made in Hawaii either. I watched your instagram video with the toasted coconut. Yummmy!

    • John says:

      Thanks Garrett for affirming my dislike of the Kona stuff… and it explains why it’s so cheap here in Norcal. Gordon Biersch is a decent brewer for what it’s worth and good people but the Kona guys shouldn’t claim to be Hawiian (this also explains why it’s at Costco along with the very similar (read: Gordon Biersch) Kirkland brand beer).

  • Bob Jones says:

    Kona Brewing is a sell out. Exactly 0% of their beer is brewed on the islands to bypass excise taxes. Support all of the local breweries that pay 50% more to produce their beer and brew their beer with local, sustainable ingredients. Shame you missed Maui Brewing Company. Their bar is one of the coolest I have ever seen and they have many unique beers you will not find in the stores.

    This article will make you appreciate the local breweries much more:

  • TG says:

    Primo Brewing (Honolulu) hasn’t been brewed on Oahu for decades. It’s owned by Pabst and brewed out of Southern Californiaa. Aloha Beer Company (Honolulu) closed in July. You can still find bottles of their lager, but that is also brewed on the mainland. The other breweries are Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea, Kauai Beer Company and Kauai Island Brewery. Honolulu Beerworks will be opening soon on Oahu. Hope you get to try those next time you are here.

  • Eric says:

    Some really good riding on the islands, and smaller breweries, too!

  • John says:

    @Eric – good riding on the islands? Do tell? I was on Kauai lately and didn’t find much… but the Kauai Island Brewing company was quite good! I would go back.

  • Steve says:

    Had a bunch of kona last time I was on the big island. Had no idea that it’s actually made about 20 minutes away from my home in WA state, lol! That’s pretty shady, but I will say that I enjoy the longboard, wailua and the koko brown.

    I’ve also had that coconut porter since it’s freely available at grocery stores here in WA. It’s aight and I agree it’s not gimmicky with the coconut.

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