When Garrett Marrero opened Maui Brewing Company in January of 2005, he stepped into a pretty sparse market. Breweries that shared his business model — ones that utilized local ingredients and brewed on-island — were few and far between within the state.
“There was no craft beer scene when we started here,” Marrero recalls. “We started based on the principle that we wanted to make authentic, local Hawaiian craft beer.”
Now, several years later, the local market for craft beer — which generally refers to small, independently owned breweries — has seen a recent surge, with breweries popping up at a rapid pace. On Oahu alone, Kaka‘ako-based Home of the Brave tour company opened its adjacent Brewseum five years ago, Honolulu BeerWorks is just about to turn two, and Waikiki Brewing Company, Stewbum & Stonewall Brewing Co. and Lanikai Brewing Company all opened last year.
These local breweries and more will be on display at the second annual Honolulu Brewers Festival from 2 to 6:30 p.m. April 23 at Kaka‘ako Makai Gateway Park, alongside a number of national and international breweries.
The festival got its start in 2012, shortly after organizer Troy Terorotua had opened REAL a gastropub. Terorotua, a former Sam Choy’s corporate chef, had been hearing the same question from various industry friends: Why didn’t Oahu have a beer fest? So, he and marketer Lisa Kim teamed up to start one. Things began relatively modestly — they held the first one, initially dubbed the REAL Beer Festival, that year in a parking lot near the bar. Already, the demand was there: About 1,700 people showed up to sample 70 beers from 35 different breweries.
A name change, a location change and a few years later, Honolulu Brewers Festival now is slated to have more than 100 beers from 55 breweries and has become so popular that it has to cap its ticket sales at 2,500.
“I tell people when they come (to REAL) and if they want a specific beer, that there are seven locations within 150 yards of this place that they can pick any of the beers that they ask for,” Terorotua says. “But if they really want to try something unique, this is where it is — and that is what the festival is about.
“There will be beers that people recognize, and then there are going to be beers that they can try if they are feeling adventurous,” he continues. “The gamut is full; we have a very eclectic mix.”
Plus, there’s live entertainment and food will be provided by about 20 bars and restaurants.
This year, there also will be a full week of events leading up to the festival. The inaugural Honolulu Beer Week kicks off April 17 at Pint + Jigger with a New Belgium Brewing and Girl Scout Cookie Pairing. Other events include beer specials at venues across the island.
One of the things that Terorotua is excited about this year is the number of local breweries participating. While there has been participation in years past, there simply are more of them now.
“Over the past four years, we have really seen a lot of growth, a lot of new breweries coming to the islands,” Terorotua says.
When Terorotua first opened REAL, he admits that he wasn’t sure if it would be successful. And initially, some customers did seem a bit perplexed by the menu — which didn’t include well-known light beers from big-name companies.
But now, he says, people are much more savvy about what they’re drinking.
“It’s just fun — seeing somebody try a really great beer that you never think they’d try, and enjoying it,” he says.
The local surge mimics the larger national trend. According to Brewers Association, there were 2,401 craft breweries in 2012. That number grew to 4,225 by 2015.
The increase, some local brewers postulate, has been made possible in part because craft-brewing culture ties in heavily with other current consumer and food trends.
“I think people are definitely more conscious about eating right,” says BeerWorks owner Geoffrey Seideman. “If they are going to drink, they want a quality, craft product. People want to know where their product is being made and what’s in it.”
“The audience that is drinking craft beer, they typically care about sustainability, they care about local agriculture, and the types of food that you eat, or what you are putting into your body,” Marrero says. “We believe that those who are leading the craft beer way of life are supporting local, they are supporting natural … and a sense of place.
“It goes beyond just beer,” Marrero continues. “I think that is what has led to the success of craft brewing in general — so many of the same principles echo and resonate with others.”
Perhaps another reason for the recent market explosion is that it took some time to realize the expansive possibilities of what a glass of beer could entail. In 1516, Germany created what is known in English as the Beer Purity Law, stating that beer can only be made from hops, barley and water (later amending it to add yeast). That traditional recipe, brewers say, long had an influence how beer was made.
“It took craft brewers a little bit of time to say, you know what, I am going to make something that is flavorful, something that is interesting and exciting,” says Joe Lorenzen of Waikiki Brewing Company.
Waikiki Brewing, for instance, has a popular brew that entails throwing in 30 pounds of fresh jalapenos toward the end of the boil. Maui Brewing Company uses things like coconut chips, pineapple, papaya, mango, breadfruit and more.
Once, Marrero recalls, a brewer from a larger company visited them, and when Marrero explained that they put pineapple into their beer, he was astounded. Why would you do that? he asked. Marrero’s response was simple: “Because it’s what we do, and it’s awesome.”
“Think of craft brewing as the punk rock of beer,” Marrero says. “You had the punk rock era when it was like f*** authority and anti-The Man, anti-corporate — and that is kind of what we are to the beer world. We aren’t bound by the rules that larger brewers have been.”
As the craft beer industry continues to grow, Terorotua hopes that the festival can help propel these breweries forward.
“The local guys here, a lot of them don’t have the opportunity to go out and showcase (their beer),” Terorotua says. “They are spending all their time and money on their facilities and on their ingredients, so (we wanted) to bring education of craft beer to Hawaii. That is what this was always about — a way to educate people and teach them that there is more (beer) out there.”
For more information on HonoluluBrewersFestival, visit honolulubrewersfestival.com. Tickets cost $70, which includes a beer glass, 10 4-ounce beer tasting coupons and samplings of food. Tickets for non-drinkers cost $25. Tickets are available via eventbrite.com, or at REAL a gastropub and BREW’d Craft Pub. For more information on Honolulu Beer Week, visit honolulubeerweek.com.
Honolulu Brewers Festival will be stocked with a range of beers, from pale ales to imperial stouts and sour beers. Here’s a look at what just a few of the locally based brewers will have with them. (Note that these are subject to change.)
HOP ISLAND IPA: A citrus IPA with medium body
KEWALO’S CREAM ALE: A light ale that’s designed to be a nice introduction to craft beer
PILOT PALE ALE: A full-bodied ale accented with spicy, citrus and floral hops
442 GO FOR BROKE: An amber beer made from five different hop varieties
Maui Brewing Company
BLACK LAVA GOSE: A salted wheat beer with a tart finish, featuring Molokai black sea salt
MOSAIC MO BETTAH: A fruity, aromatic blend brewed with mosaic hops
Waikiki Brewing Company
BLACK STRAP MOLASSES PORTER: Chocolate and coffee flavors combined with black strap molasses added to the boil
HANA HOU HEFE: A wheat beer brewed with a bit of strawberry puree and orange peel for subtle fruit hints and a refreshing finish
SIP FOR A CAUSE
All proceeds from Honolulu Brewers Festival benefit Hawaii Agricultural Foundation, a nonprofit that supports local farming and agriculture through education and outreach.
Festival founder Troy Terorotua, who began his culinary career as the Hawaii Regional Cuisine movement was taking shape in the 1990s, chose HAF as the event’s beneficiary because he hopes the organization will help Hawaii increase its food independence. “We need to be self-sustained — we can’t keep putting it on somebody to keep barging out food to us,” he says.
HAF’s programs include public outreach, educating keiki about the farming industry and providing farmers with assistance in areas including branding and financing.
FOR MORE ON HAF, VISIT HAWAIIAGFOUNDATION.ORG.