When you think craft beer, you probably imagine brews from states like Oregon, California and Colorado. But how about Hawaii?
Odds are that with the exception of Kona, which you’ve probably seen bottles of at your local grocery, you may not be able to name another Hawaiian beer. However, here’s a little-known fun fact: Commercial beer production in Hawaii has a history dating back more than 100 years — and it continues to thrive today.
Hawaii’s first proper brewery dates back to the turn of the 20th century, when in 1901, Honolulu Brewing and Malting Co. launched Primo Lager. Dubbed “Hawai’i’s original beer,” Primo Lager was a mainstay in Hawaii until 1920, when Prohibition halted its production. The decades since have seen the brand live on, but only after acquisition by larger beer brands, such as Schlitz and Pabst.
It was nearly a century later when Hawaii would see its first craft brewery, the aforementioned Kona Brewing Co., which opened on Hawaii Island in 1994. Cameron Healy and his son Spoon Khalsa founded Kona with a vision of reflecting Hawaiian culture in a collection of local craft beers.
Now, more than two decades later, Kona’s classic ales and lagers, such as the Longboard Island Lager and Big Wave Golden Ale, are available in all 50 U.S. states.
Yet even just a few years ago, travelers may have been hard pressed to find more than a smattering of breweries across the Hawaiian islands — in part because there were a finite number of large, available spaces suitable for housing a brewery. But even more daunting were state laws that effectively deterred craft brewing.
At the time, craft breweries were limited in how many barrels of beer they could produce. However, Hawaii beer makers like Garrett Marrero, founder of Maui Brewing Company, helped advocate legislation to expand those numbers. Their efforts paid off, and today the Hawaiian islands are home to nearly 20 craft breweries and counting.
Below, discover a few Hawaiian craft breweries, how to visit them and what they’re brewing.
Maui Brewing Company
Maui Brewing Company was one of the first, and now largest, craft breweries in Hawaii. Opened in 2005, the brewery has grown substantially since, with offshoot locations that include a brewery and restaurant in Kihei, a restaurant in Lahaina and a restaurant on Oahu in Honolulu.
If you want a full-service brewery experience, the Kihei location is your best bet, offering 45-minute guided tours, beer tastings of Maui Brewing’s flagship beers, and a recently opened restaurant dubbed “brewery-to-table dining.” Their must-try beers (many of which can be found in shops across the U.S. mainland and internationally) include a lager, pilsner, wheat, IPA, porter and double IPA. For kids and nondrinkers, Maui Brewing makes handcrafted natural sodas.
Aloha Beer Company
Honolulu’s Aloha Beer Company opened its doors in 2017 and is one of Hawaii’s newest breweries. But what’s most interesting about Aloha Beer Company is that its industrial location sits where Honolulu Brewing and Malting Company brewed beer a century ago.
Aloha has many staple craft beers, including a few IPAs, but also some unique beers, like the Makai Pier Gose, a brew that is made using water from Makai Pier in nearby Waimanalo Bay.
Kohola Brewery is actually located in the former brewhouse of Maui Brewing Company in Lahaina, Maui. Kohola is the type of place where you could linger all day, thanks to a long happy hour that runs from 4 to 9 p.m., regular food truck appearances, brewery tours and pop-up dinners and events.
The 30-minute brewery tours can be booked online and take place on Thursdays and Fridays at 4 p.m. Kohola’s small selection of flagship beers include a pale ale, amber and pilsner, named Lokahi, which won bronze at the 2016 Great American Beer Festival in the German-style pilsner category.
The Brewseum, also located in Honolulu, is just as it sounds: a hybrid brewpub and museum. Dating back to 1991, the Brewseum’s collection features Hawaiian memorabilia with a focus on World War II–era items like 1940s telephones, model planes, and black and white photos from the war lining its walls.
These artifacts are displayed throughout a brewpub, which serves the Brewseum’s signature Pilot Pale Ale, plus a number of other craft beers. The second level includes a 1940s-era-designed speakeasy and Tiki bar, with a lanai overlooking the neighborhood of Kakaako.
Big Island Brewhaus
Big Island Brewhaus is Hawaii’s highest brewery, perched at 2,764 feet above sea level on Hawaii Island. Open since 2011, it has become one of Hawaii’s most highly regarded breweries thanks to its owner, Tom Kerns, who has been brewing beer for three decades and winning major awards at events like the World Beer Cup and Great American Beer Festival.
Big Island Brewhaus pours numerous multi-award-winning beers like the Overboard IPA, Golden Sabbath Golden Ale and White Mountain Porter. With a current and past portfolio of more than 20 beers representing nearly every brewing style, Brewhaus also has a full restaurant, featuring fresh, local food.