What’s your idea of the ideal vacation? Mine is relaxing at the beach, soaking up the sun along with the local food, drink and culture. Hawaii offers all of that. The weather is almost perfect, there’s always something to do, and the cuisine fuses the best of Asia and America. Best of all, there’s plenty of good beer—if you know where to look.
One brewery owner estimated that it’s 40 percent more expensive to brew beer in Hawaii than on the mainland.
Brewing in the middle of the Pacific can be an adventure. Almost everything has to be shipped in: grain and hops, which aren’t grown there; packaging material; even bottles. Additionally, real estate and electricity are expensive, wages are high, and the state slaps a hefty tax on beer. One brewery owner estimated that it’s 40 percent more expensive to brew beer in Hawaii than on the mainland.
Despite these challenges, craft brewers thrive in Hawaii. Oahu, the most populous island, has three brewpubs. All are near downtown Honolulu; and, with a bit of planning, it’s possible to arrange a mini-pub crawl. On my last visit, I did just that.
On the Town
First, though, I arranged for a designated driver, namely, Hilo Hattie, the owner of a chain of boutiques. At my Waikiki hotel, I boarded a motorized trolley to her store west of downtown, bought a hat to replace the one I’d left on the plane, and then walked next door to the Big Aloha Brewery (580 North Nimitz Highway, inside Sam Choy’s Breakfast, Lunch and Crab), a high-energy restaurant created by Sam Choy, the Emeril Lagasse of Hawaii.
To reach “Da Brewery,” I navigated past a 35-foot-long sampan surrounded by tables full of people eating big portions of island comfort food. Underneath the brewing tanks, I enjoyed a sampler that included Kiawe Porter, brewed with island honey; Ehu Red Ale; Kakaako Cream Ale, a style rarely found this far west; and brew master Dave Campbell’s renditions of English best bitter, Bavarian hefeweizen, and California common beer.
Hilo Hattie’s trolley next took me to Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant (1 Aloha Tower Market Place), part of a chain I’d visited on earlier trips west. I walked through an airy restaurant serving casual aloha fare, which opened up to a wooden lanai, or deck, where office workers gathered to watch the ships cruise past and admire the sunset from one of downtown’s best vantage points. The German-inspired beers include Blonde Bock, which packs a 7 percent alcohol punch; a malty version of märzen; Golden Export; and an unfiltered Dunkles. They all go well with a plate of garlic fries, the aroma from which will greet you the moment you walk in the front door.
Next up was the Brew Moon Restaurant & Microbrewery (1200 Ala Moana Blvd., inside the Victoria Ward Center), a sleek, ultra-modern establishment on the second floor of a shopping complex. The dining room, which overlooks Ala Moana Park, is decorated with friezes depicting the brewing process, the phases of the moon, and the plantation that stood there before developers moved in.
Since I was there for beer and pupus, as snacks are called, I grabbed a seat on the lanai, watched the rain showers fall on the mountains above, and ordered a pint. Brew Moon’s rotating tap selections offer everything from a Belgian trippel to a Bavarian schwarzbier; there are also five year-round beers. My generously hopped pale ale was the perfect accompaniment to the famous “bar crackers,” thin pizza crusts sprinkled with Gorgonzola and garlic and slightly blackened.