JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Assistant brewer Curtis Zeug empties a bag of barley to be cracked open at Keoki Brewing Co.'s brewery in Lihue. Owners Keith Kinsey and Andy Baker rescued former Alii Brewing Co. equipment to take on production of Pabst Brewing Co.'s Primo, which accounts for half of Keoki's production.
Junkyard treasures boost capacity at Keoki Brewing
» Beers: Keoki Gold (top seller) and Keoki Sunset Ale in bottles and draft, as well as Keoki Hapa Ale on draft and Golden Mango, served only at the Varsity pub
» Available: Bottles and draft throughout the state (also sold in 22-ounce bottles) and in Japan
» Seasonals: None
» Open since: 1998
» Size of brewery: Just less than 5,000 square feet, 15-barrel system
» Production: 3,500-4,000 barrels a year
» Employees: Four
» Distributor: Paradise Beverages Inc.
» Brewery pet: Georgina the cat, inherited from previous owner George Wells
They were searching for forgotten fermenters and kegs on Sand Island and at Barbers Point, auctioned by Alii and sold again by another brewery that never opened.
"I tracked down where the equipment was, and we worked out a deal to rescue this equipment," said Baker, who purchased Keoki Brewing Co. in May 2007 with Kinsey. "There was a pretty good hornet's nest in a couple of them."
What they dug up, which included several fermenters and about four dozen kegs, has doubled capacity at Keoki's Lihue facility, a two-room warehouse filled with hundreds of bags of malt from the Pacific Northwest, processing equipment and six 30-barrel fermenters. Large hoses snake between tanks. One wall is lined with empty stainless steel kegs. Little space is left unused.
Not only are sales at the brewery increasing by more than 20 percent annually, Keoki also started late last year making draft Primo beer for Woodridge, Ill.-based Pabst Brewing Co. Primo will account for half of the 3,500 to 4,000 barrels produced at Keoki this year.
And with "ambitious" plans to build an isle bottling facility in the next few years — Keoki is now bottled in California — a mainland distribution launch and a new ale next year, another expansion not be far off.
"We are at maximum capacity right now," Kinsey said. "We are in every tank. We are brewing all the time. I'm not sure when we are going to see a slowdown."
Baker and Kinsey, who both held top positions at Kona Brewing Co., bought Keoki from George Wells, who founded it in 1998.
"Part of my motivation was that the local retailers were not being fully met by a local brewer," Baker said. "I think there's a great affinity for locally produced product, and we really want to embrace that."
"At breweries we basically make food, right? That food is prepared by master chefs, which are called brewmasters. It's like someone cooking a steak. If they know how to really do it, they get it perfect every time."
Keith Kinsey /
CEO of Keoki Brewing Co.
On a Friday afternoon last month, they helped brewers pour sacks of malt into the hopper to be cracked, one of the first steps in brewing this batch of Keoki Gold. It is a process the brewers repeat up to three times a week in double batches of nearly 500 gallons each. It takes about 14 hours.
"It's a lot of work, really physical," Kinsey said. "That's why every brewer you see is in really good shape. They work hard. Really hard."
Kinsey talks in detail about an expanded chiller that houses full beer kegs and a one-year supply of hops, as well as a new energy-saving heating and cooling system that allows the brewery to function without air conditioners.
"Now we have the systems in place and we have the people in place to create and continue world-class beers for a very long period of time," Kinsey says. "We are not looking to do it next week, we are looking to do it over time, and it's really important for us to get the bones built. Once the bones are there, we can do the other stuff."