Poipu, Kauai - Setting foot outside the People's Craft Beer Republic of Portland can be a sketchy business. Our beer choices are virtually unlimited. Then you swoop into some foreign land or state and find the pickings mighty slim. Such is the case in much of Hawaii.
I realize this is an airport bar mostly full of tourists in transit to outer islands or the mainland. Fine. But the draft list here is abominable. And never mind the prices...highway robbery! The choices: Shock Top, Boston Lager, Kona Longboard, Goose Island IPA, Stella and Bud Light. Nothing worthwhile in bottles, either.
I sucked it up and ordered the Goose IPA. Not terrible...or great. Goose beers started showing up in Hawaii a few trips ago, not long after Anheuser-Busch bought them out. I remember seeing Goose Island handles in a brewpub on Kauai and being astonished. Today, the standard line-up in many island bars is Kona, Goose, Bud, Shock Top, etc. Shabby stuff.
There are two major beer distributors in Hawaii...Paradise (MillerCoors) and Anheuser-Busch of Hawaii. Looking at that dreadful Stinger Ray's tap list, it occurred to me that the AB people are winning the tap handle battle. All but Boston Lager are AB brands. The formation of Maui-Stone Distributing (story here) is altering the craft beer landscape for visitors and residents of Maui, but the timing for the rest of the islands is uncertain for now.
Seeing all that Shock Top and Goose IPA made me briefly wonder if perhaps AB's el-cheapo keg program (mentioned here a few weeks back) might be in play in Hawaii. My sources can't say. I seriously doubt it. AB is losing market share and tap handles like crazy in the Northwest. That's why they introduced the cheap kegs. No reason to do that here...they're doing fine.
Speaking of that program, I've heard some rumors of it backfiring. It works like this: AB goes into a bar and gets them to replace a craft handle with Shock Top. Seems like a win. Days later, the rep of the lost handle comes in and gets the bar manager to replace an AB brand (Kona or Widmer are likely suspects) with a full-priced craft brand. Wherever this is happening, AB is effectively trading a profitable handle for a loss leader...not the best financial bargain.
The other thing that's apt to happen longterm is brand equity damage to Shock Top and Goose. AB hoped to alleviate this by limiting fire sale discounting to kegs, while packaged pricing didn't change. The problem is, how do you get bars to pay $110 for kegs of Shock Top and Goose Island when they've been paying half that? The answer is, you don't. Or you have a hard time.
Oh well. Time to catch some rays and drink a decent beer.