Beer drinkers and connoisseurs, beware: your Hawaiian island vacation will become more than sunbathing and pineapple-tasting. Kona Brewing Company in Kailua-Kona on the Big Island pours some of the state's favorite brews. Headquartered in Kona, the company has expanded since its 1995 founding. The first pub opened in Kona in 1998, and a second opened in 2003 in Hawaii Kai on Oahu. And if you miss these two spots, the company's "Air Pub" in the Honolulu International Airport serves up the best beers you can find in a layover.
Pub patrons in Kona can tour the brewery for free seven days a week at 10:30 am and 3:00 pm. The brew crew will walk you through the nine steps from milling to packaging that give Kona beers their notable taste. While most industries have proven to be far from recession-proof, Kona Brewing production has increased yearly by 585 percent. That's a big deal in a state that can't even pay for a five-day school week.
Kona Brewing stays true to its Hawaiian roots by incorporating tropical ingredients into its recipes, and utilizing sustainable, philanthropic practices. Kona's five most popular beers sold in stores include the Fire Rock Pale Ale, Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Lager, and seasonal Pipeline Porter and Wailua Wheat. The earthy Pipeline Porter comes out in the fall, and Wailua Wheat, my personal favorite, hits shelves in the spring. This golden beer sings notes of tropical passion fruit and light hops. Stamped on the bottom of every bottle cap is a Hawaiian word and its translation, ensuring that consumers from Texas to Japan can expand their Hawaiian vocabulary. Visitors to the pubs should try the draft-only beers that they can't buy anywhere else. The Hula Hefeweizen mixes traditional Bavarian ingredients with a light banana infusion. Lavaman Red Ale hints at caramel and chocolate, and the Castaway IPA asserts its bold blend of hops. Newcomers should try the sampler, which comes with 4 5oz. glasses of different brews.
As part of Kona's sustainability mission, it donates spent grain to cattle ranches and uses it in pizza crusts. The pub uses biodegradable and compostable containers, and recycles as much as possible. The brewery uses heat exchangers to reclaim heat from the brewing process, and the company's landscape is irrigated with water collected from its air conditioning system. Kona also plays an integral role in fundraising for nonprofits, such as Kokua Hawaii Foundation, the Sierra Club's Blue Water Campaign, and the Surfrider Organization.
Aside from "liquid aloha," Kona Brewing pubs offer an array of dishes to satisfy a growling stomach. Servers specialize in pairing brews with meals, so be sure to ask for advice if you can't decide. The menu is perhaps most famous for its hand-tossed pizzas, which come in individual and family sizes. Many entrees like the Porterhouse Dip and Lunapule Lasagne include beer in their recipes, adding unique flavors to otherwise traditional cuisine. Its pupu (appetizer) selection is my favorite in the state. Try the Roasted Garlic: whole, roasted garlic cloves soft for spreading, hot Gorgonzola cheese, and a sourdough loaf.
The pubs host live bands on the weekends. Click on the link below for event calendars, a menu, and more information on how Kona Brewing Company will tantalize your taste buds.