Make Mayan A Hawaiian

Last January, my family, girlfriend and I went on a cruise from San Pedro, California to the Hawaiian Islands, and back. While the trip over was extremely rough, we all ended up having a great time, and spent a good deal of our shore time sampling Hawaiian style beers at five different breweries, and also got to check out a local home brew shop…

Our first brewery was one I was familiar with from California, Gordon Biersch. Many years ago, I used to visit the San Jose, California location, where I drank many half liters of Marzen on the back patio, downtown. I later ended up living a few blocks from their bottling location on Taylor Street. This German inspired brewery now has many locations all over the place, but few could rival the beauty of the Honolulu location, right on the water. Of particular interest was their Winter Bock, a powerhouse of a beer tipping the ABV line at over 9% with its sweet, toffee tinged malt it stuck to the palate for a long, long time. Their Czech style Pilsner was a showcase of the Saaz hop strain, and was crisp and dry and a nice counter punch to the heat and humidity, that I was lacking during the Portland winter that I was experiencing mere days earlier.

Hopping in a cab, we then headed to Sam Choy Brewery for a delicious lunch of crab melts and beers. Starved for lupulin for several days at sea with nothing hoppier than Bass Ale (I mostly drank gin, rum and whiskey on the ship, as living in Portland has ruined me on drinking anything but outstanding beer, and if you know me, you know I crave predominately The Hop Bomb), I was excited to see on the Sam Choy beer list, Captain Cook’s IPA. It was not a home run, but certainly nothing shabby, either. With crab melts that scrumptious, an average IPA was more than adequate.

(Waimea photo from

The world’s westernmost brewery, Waimea Brewing,on the island of Kauai, also had an IPA named Captain Cook’s IPA. Dave Curry, Waimea’s brewer, is an old friend of mine, formerly from Kennett-Diamond Brewery, an excellent, but now defunct brewery in Redding, California, where he brewed on of my favorite strong ales. Dave’s version of Captain Cook’s IPA featured the Simcoe hop, and was exactly what my hop numbed tasted buds crave. At under 6% ABV, I was able to drink several of them with my pork chop lunch and not get too weird. Also of note, was a beer called “Brewers Choice,” which was a brew somewhere between an ESB and an IPA. Not really fitting properly into a style, was of no concern, as its deliciousness spoke for itself.

Being from the Chico area, Dave was able to procure a couple of cases of Sierra Nevada Harvest Ale, of which he shared a bottle of with us on the way to Glass Beach, a beach comprised of glass beads, wore down from the ocean waves pounding glass bottles from a former dumping ground.

On the big island, in the city of Hilo, Kaiao Archer, assistant brewer of Mehana Brewing gave us a tour of their brewery. There were many people bringing in old Cornelius kegs to be filled for home kegerators, and the tasting room was buzzing with people getting growlers and samplers of the breweries offerings. Elsa, the taptender in their tasting room was very friendly and answered all our questions about what’s happening in their beer world. Mehana’s special holiday seasonal was awesome and we took a growler back to drink on the bay with our friends, while watching the storm waves breaking over the bay’s levee. Their porter and pale ales were excellent, as well. Kaiao told us that he and head brewer, John Walsh (whom we missed that day) were thinking about making an IPA soon.

Also in Hilo, we visited a great homebrew shop run out of the back of a party supply shop by Russ Fuller. We got a kick out of seeing a Steinbart’s box on the shelf of brewing supplies, and learned that before Stienbart’s wholesale business got absorbed by Brewcraft, that is where he got a lot of his supplies shipped in from. Russ told us a bunch of great anecdotes and we discovered that he won second place in Portland at the National Homebrew competition in 2009 for wood aged beer. I still feel rotten about how someone stole Russ’s signed copy of Joy of Homebrew.


On the island of Maui, we got to go to both the cannery and pubs of Maui Brewing. At the cannery, brewer Scott Freitas and owner Garrett Marrero showed us around and let us drink a Coconut Porter right off the canning line, prior to its top seal being punched on. I’m not usually a flavored beer guy, but this porter is write home about good. It’s like a liquid German chocolate cake, and was so stoked to learn that it is now available in cans throughout Portland. Scott, we found out is from the Eugene area, and used to brew for Steelhead, Wild Duck, Deschutes, and Bend Brewing companies, and busted out the Oregon-centric brewers quote, “When in doubt, add more hops,” when asked about immanent potential changes to their IPA. On draft at their taphouse, we got to try their Old Chinwig barleywine and Aloha Plenty strong ale, both of which were knock your socks off brews.

On leaving Maui, we all filled our backpacks with cases of Big Swell IPA and headed back to our cruise liner, happy as clams knowing we’d be drinking nice hoppy beers on the patio. While drinking some of these cans, we got to see at least a dozen whales swimming, blowing seawater through their blowholes and barrel rolling to gigantic splashes. The trip back across the Pacific was calm and gorgeous. The memories of the beautiful, kind and generous people of Hawaii and their wonderful beers will forever be cherished.

Thanks to Amy for taking the pictures and fact checking people’s names and the places we went. Without her help, I’d never get anything finished.


  • dr wort
    dr wort
    Fri Apr 9, 2010 7:08 PM

    I know Bill @ ‘It’s Pub night’ will be all over this statement!

    I remember going to Gordon Biersch at their original location in Palo Alto, not far from Stanford University. This was 1988, back when this was their ONLY brewery and their beer was actually very good… being brewed in smaller batches. They used to brew a wonderful Bock back then, and then it disappeared! I wonder if this Winter Bock is it’s reincarnation?

    That was back in the day when the GB servers and bartenders used to know the name of the beers, unlike most of their staff today that describe the beer by color; Light, Amberishy or Strong Light thingy. You have to say those with a dumb blond voice and end with a little girl giggle, Tee Hee. ;-}

    • Nina Lytton
      Nina Lytton
      Fri May 14, 2010 1:30 AM

      Aloha from Mehana Brewing and our sister company, Hawaii Nui Brewing.

      Glad you stopped by!

      A hui hou, Nina

      PS: a link to our latest news