brewmaster at Kona Brewing Co.
Most of your generation of brewers begin by homebrewing. Not many start out with a background like yours in food science or brewing chemistry. What were you going to do if brewing hadn’t come along?
I thought I’d be developing food products. Since I was a little kid, I was always messing around in the kitchen. I was never content just to make cookies; I had to tweak them, or mix cookies and brownies together. I did an omelette demonstration in fifth grade with all these weird ingredients. Everyone was, like, “Oh, man, what are you doing?” Later, I did a brief stint with Wishbone salad dressing, but when I got exposed to brewing, I thought, “Wow, this tastes a lot better than ranch dressing.”
Does that background give you an advantage when you try to solve problems or concoct recipes?
Yes and no. As with anything, you can only learn so much in a lab environment. Only when you actually get out and do it does it really make sense. Of course, it helps to have a science foundation, so when you start talking pH and enzymes, you don’t have to learn a whole new vocabulary.
Your first brewing job was in Colorado?
I worked almost six years at Breckenridge Brewery in Denver. Then my wife and I took a short sabbatical from our jobs and did some traveling. When we came back and started sending out resumes, quality of life was very important, so we wanted mountains or ocean. The opportunity in Hawaii came up, and several phone interviews and a long weekend later, we packed our bags. We were thinking “How bad could this be for two or three years?” That was eight years ago.
There’s a common myth that says, the hotter the climate, the wimpier the beer…
Our biggest seller in the brewpub is Castaway IPA, 7 percent alcohol, 65 IBUs. People are seeking out more flavorful beers. The ocean front restaurants definitely serve a lot of the lighter beers, but restaurants and evening establishments tend to sell more full-flavored beers.
What is Hawaiian beer culture like?
It’s interesting. It’s a little behind the mainland—it’s not Portland or Denver or Seattle by any means, but we’re getting there. There are a lot of mainland transplants who are used to full-flavored beer and are demanding that. There are several breweries in Hawaii. And the chefs at the hotels and resort restaurants are on the cutting-edge with culinary techniques, so the beers are a natural combination.
What are the challenges in brewing thousands of miles away from anywhere?
Where should I start? Everything except the water has to be imported. You’re looking at roughly 45 percent higher costs to produce beer, than on the mainland. It means weeks of lead time and a lot of careful planning and inventory management.
Is your beer available outside Hawaii?
We have a partnership with Widmer in Portland to brew and bottle our beer for the mainland, which has allowed us to expand there. Think about what we’d have to charge for a six-pack of beer in California, if we had to ship all the raw materials here to Hawaii then ship it back to the mainland…that’s not very environmentally responsible.
What music do you play in the brewhouse?
(Laughs) What don’t we play? Everything from classic rock to hip hop