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Thursday, December 27, 2012

Kauai's Craft Beer Challenge

Kauai is an amazing place. People come here for the great weather, the surfing, the snorkeling, the golf and a range of other activities. Some people even come here just to relax in the warmth, if you can imagine that. What people obviously don't come here for is the beer.

A bit of background. I've been to Kauai many times over the years. It's gotten easier in recent times because there's a place to stay. That place is in Poipu, on the south side of the island in the rain shadow. It's usually dry here, while it pours on most of the island. Oh, in case you don't know, Kauai is the westernmost of the Hawaiian Islands.

The bar at Brennecke's Beach Broiler 
Frankly speaking, the beer selection has never been great here. In the old days, we would wander down to Brennecke's Beach Broiler (an open air bar and restaurant) which overlooks the city beach and suck down whatever we could find after a day of fun in the sun. Steinlager was a favorite, and eventually so was Kona's Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Lager.

Despite the craft beer revolution that's overtaking America, Kona is now the only beer you can regularly find on tap in bars and restaurants around Poipu. They serve several Kona beers at Brennecke's and at the Honu Beach Bar at the Marriott Waiohai Beach Club. Across the street at Keoki's Paradise (bar and restaurant) they have a greater selection of mostly Kona beers, as well as Blue Moon and some other Coors products. The grocery stores offer more of the same.

Look, the Kona beers aren't bad. They're clean and highly drinkable. But they really aren't very exciting next to what I'm used to finding in Portland and on the West Coast, generally. And let's face it, good craft beer isn't that hard to find in a growing number of American towns and cities. So why not here?

Back up. There is exactly one craft brewery on the island of Kauai today....Kauai Island Brewing in Port Allen. They've been open since July and I've written about this place before. But I had never been there until today. I'll have a more complete look at the place in the next day or so. The question remains, why aren't there more breweries here?

The beach at Marriott's Waiohai Beach Club
Some might say it's a problem of demand. Kauai's 2011 population was estimated at just over 67,000. These folks are spread around the island. Of course, you have to also consider the transient tourist population. More than 1 million people visited Kauai in 2011 (stats), the bulk of them from the US mainland, mostly from the West Coast. These are people who know about good beer. One craft brewery for more than a million people? Nah, demand isn't the issue.

The issue almost certainly revolves around cost. A lot of small businesses don't survive long here. I've seen this in action. The area seems to be increasingly dominated by big corporate players who can afford to buy or lease property and don't mind high state taxes and exorbitant utility costs. And let's not forget the importance of being able to weather recurrent downturns in tourism. Small businesses have a very difficult time in this economic scenario.

One of many spectacular views
When it comes to breweries, the problem is magnified because Hawaii's beer excise tax ranks fourth in the country, behind Alaska, Alabama and Georgia, at 93 cents a gallon. Compare this to the beer crazy states of Oregon and Colorado, where the rate is 8 cents per gallon. So you have all the standard business factors, plus the high excise tax. A perfect storm!

In case you're wondering how Kona Brewing has flourished in the scenario I've just described, part of the answer is here. I may return to this issue in the upcoming post about Kauai Island Brewing.

Cheers from Poipu.

1 comment:

  1. I like reading all images are awesome and Here are my favourite beer bar in Greensboro.


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