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Sunday, July 29, 2012

Craft Beer Surf's Up at Kauai Island Brewing

This is one of those occasions where I get to pretend I'm somewhere I wouldn't mind being right now: Kauai. Despite the very decent weather we're having here in Portland at the moment, Kauai is a great place to be. There's just something about the tropics. And good beer.

Craft beer lovers who visit Kauai are discovering a new brewpub that recently opened. I'm talking about Kauai Island Brewing. The brewery opened a few weeks ago in Port Allen, which is down (or up) the road from the Poipu area (south side of the island). They fly small helicopters and ultralight aircraft out of Port Allen...a point of reference for some folks who've been there.

The now defunct Waimea Brewing Company
There's a bit of conflicting, confusing information out in internet land. The confusion stems from questions over whether Kauai Island Brewing is new or a transplant. Also, is it the only craft beer brewery on the island of Kauai? More issues naturally come up.

To clear some of these questions up, I called the brewery and spoke to Dave Curry, brewmaster and vice president. Dave was kind enough spend 15-20 minutes answering questions and explaining the situation there. I'll hopefully meet him when I make a trip out there in a few months. Looking forward to that.

The rundown
Who are these guys? Kauai Island Brewing was formerly known as the Waimea Brewing Company. It was located a few miles up the road inside the Plantation Cottages in Waimea. Anyone remember Waimea Brewing's tagline? World's Westernmost Brewpub. They've changed it to World's Westernmost Brewery, but you get the idea. These are the same folks. Curry has been the brewmaster for nine years.

The new location basks in the late afternoon sun
Who owns Kauai Island Brewing? Here's a surprise. The brewery is owned by Seattle-area couple, Bret and Janice Larson. Bret Larson is an engineer at Boeing, if you're wondering. Curry said the Larsons do not own a residence of any kind on Kauai...they simply fly out to the island a few times a year to vacation and check in on the business.

Why did they move to Port Allen? The simple version is the lease in Waimea expired in July 2011. Leases don't expire by accident and I'm sure there were reasons, but I didn't dig. It appears the Plantation Cottage owners had for some time wanted a more upscale dining spot in the vacated space...and you'll understand why if you visit. From a brewing standpoint, the Waimea space was small. I know because I visited several times. They were almost always low on beer choices. Not good. Curry said he and the Larsons wanted a larger space where they could put more effort into the beer. That could not have happened at the Waimea location.

The main floor looks comfortable enough
What's the new setup? The location that recently opened in Port Allen is a 4,000 square foot space that includes the brewery, the pub and a mezzanine. They have installed a 5 bbl brewhouse and several fermenters, including a 10 bbl. They also installed four 10 bbl serving tanks, which should help them keep up with demand at the pub.

What about the pub? It's turns out they are partnering with the Kauai Island Grill for the food part of the operation (they had a similar arrangement for several years in Waimea).Patrons would never know it, though. Curry said the pub and the brewery appear to operate as one. In fact, they are separate, cooperative entities. My sources (family members who just returned from Kauai) report that the food is quite good, but check them out on Yelp if you want more reviews.

Logo looks good on a good beer
What about the beers? If you ever visited Waimea Brewing, you'll recognize the beer list. Captain Cook's IPA, Leilani Light, Lilikoi Ale, Na Pali Pale Ale, Pakala Porter and several others were all on the beer menu at Waimea. Curry said he intends to have two IPAs on tap at all times in the pub once he gets production up to speed. With the larger brewing facility, he expects to develop some new recipes. There's a new English ale yeast on the way to help with that.

Any plans to distribute beers beyond the pub? The first goal is to make sure they keep up with demand at the pub, Curry said. After that, they may do some distribution to Kauai watering holes by keg. There are no plans to bottle, which makes good sense if you know anything about the very high taxes on beer and (empty) bottles in the state of Hawaii (see my earlier post on this topic here). 

A view at the interior from the mezzanine
What could be driving this? Kauai Island Brewing is currently the only craft brewery on Kauai. Its most recent competitor was Keoki Brewing. Keoki merged with Mehana Brewing in 2009 to form Hawaii Nei Brewing, based in Hilo on the island of Hawaii. Thus, you have a tourist and local population looking for craft beer and only one place to find it for now...Kauai Island Brewing. So the move to Port Allen and the expansion of the brewing facility would seem to make good sense. If you're wondering, Curry said another brewery plans/hopes to eventually open on Kauai, but it may be a while.

I'll have more to say about Kauai Island Brewing, particularly the beers, when I get out there later in the year. Until then, the craft beer surf is up on Kauai!

1 comment:

  1. Congrats guys! Hope to see you soon.

    Cheers and beers,

    Garrett and the
    Maui Brewing Co. 'ohana


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