JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Cans of Bikini Blonde Lager are filled at Maui Brewing Co.'s brewery in Lahaina, which is being expanded to allow for production of up to 10,000 barrels a year.
Maui Brewing sells beers in a ‘natural, naked state’
LAHAINA » At the end of a long rectangular bar, Travis and Sheila Young have just finished two pints of Maui Brewing Co. Red Cock Doppelbock and Penguin XX Imperial Stout.
Maui Brewing Co.
4405 Honoapiilani Highway, Lahaina
» Founders: Garrett and Melanie Marrero
» Beers: Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA and Coconut Porter in cans; (Maui Brewing sells Bikini Blonde 2-to-1 over IPA and Bikini Blonde 3-to-1 over Coconut Porter); a dozen other draft beers; plans for draft root beer
» Available: In cans throughout Hawaii and in Southern California Beverages and More stores; on draft at about 15 Maui locations (double that expected in the next four months) and at the Yard House in Waikiki; Hawaiian Airlines also sells more than 100 cases on flights every three weeks.
» Seasonals: None in cans; draft beers rotate at Maui brew pub, which has about 10 Maui Brewing taps.
» Open since: Garrett Marrero purchased the Fish & Game Brewing Co. & Rotisserie in the Kahana Gateway Center in 2005 and the second production facility in Lahaina in 2007.
» Size of brewery: 5,400 square feet, 25-barrel system (space to expand this year); brew pub: 2,500 square feet, seven-barrel system
» Production: 3,000 to 4,000 barrels this year; up from 1,600 in 2007 and 500 in 2006
» Employees: Five to six at the brew pub; double that after 18-month production facility expansion; 42 at the brew pub
» Distributor: Paradise Beverages Inc.; some self-distribution on Maui
» Closure: The brew pub will close in July during a six-week renovation to be completed in August.
Soon a friendly debate over whether to order a sampler tray of 10-ounce brews is ended when longtime bartender Alan Pike slaps down a laminated mat, smiles and fills a few glasses with amber, golden and dark brown brew.
"I was really impressed" said Sheila, 24, who was visiting the Lahaina Maui Brewing pub while on vacation from San Antonio with husband Travis, 25. "There wasn't one I wasn't happy with."
George O'Hanlon hears that a lot these days. He is the general manager of the Liquor Collection in Ward Warehouse, where Maui Brewing's three canned beers are outselling all other Hawaiian brands by 8-to-1. Out of 175 varieties, they are the store's best sellers.
"Since Maui beers have come out, my other Hawaii beers have suffered in sales," he said. "It is not dying off as the novelty wears off -- it is developing a regular customer line."
Regular enough that owner Garrett Marrero can't meet demand at his Lahaina production facility. So, for the second time in just more than a year after the first Maui Brewing cans rolled off the line, Marrero and his wife, Melanie, are doubling capacity. In January they added a pair of 100-barrel tanks.
In the next year and a half, Maui Brewing Co. will add seven 100-barrel tanks, pushing production capability to 10,000 barrels a year, or close to the annual isle output of Kona Brewing Co., the top beer maker in Hawaii.
"What we are looking at is being the beer of Hawaii," said brewmaster Thomas Kerns. "We feel that handcrafted beer is served best close to the source. It's just like bread: If you buy it from a local bakery, it's just that much better."
JAMM AQUINO /
"We are already coming from an inferior position from a marketing standpoint because we are asking for a premium beer price in a can. So we have got to make that can look like the best damn can out there. We didn't want to be cheesy Hawaiian; we wanted to be authentic to the style of the beer."
Founder, Maui Brewing Co.
Marrero, a former investment consultant from California, talks fast, moves faster and is a tireless advocate for his beers, which won three World Beer Cup awards this year.
In the brewery, where each fermenter has a name -- from Ninkasi, the Sumerian goddess of brewing, to Yoda, the wise Jedi master in "Star Wars" -- Marrero runs between answering sales calls and funneling cans of his top-selling lager onto the canning line, where it takes about eight hours to drain a tank.
"We are brewing right into the cans with no filtering," he said, eying the golden brew as it flowed through a hose. "We are getting a natural beer, in its most natural, naked state. That's part of what is so welcoming about that beer. When you put it up to your mouth, you get that 'Hello, how are you?' That's cool."
Marrero's "detail-oriented" style also applies to what's outside the can -- the brewery's designs, depicting a bikini-clad woman and a fist clasping a coconut jug, were hammered out by a local illustrator and graphic designer, and are flanked with sayings cooked up amongst friends, such as "Big, hoppy, bold, smooth and hoppy ... did we mention hoppy?"
"It's funny, it's quirky, it's not meant to be taken seriously," he said. "If you are taking it seriously, you already shouldn't be drinking. Beer is celebratory."
COURTESY THOMAS KERNS
Thomas Kerns, brewmaster at Maui Brewing Co., plans to open his own brewery next year on the Big Island with his wife, Jayne.
Kerns plans Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea
The Big Island just might be big enough to handle a third brewery.
Or so 20-year brewing industry veteran Thomas Kerns hopes.
$2.50 vs. $265
Price per can of Maui Brewing Co.'s Coconut Porter at the Liquor Collection at Ward Warehouse. The store's most expensive beer ever sold was a limited-release Sam Adams for $265 a bottle, with 30 bottles shipped to Hawaii.
Early next year, he's launching the Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea, halfway between Kona Brewing Co. and Hilo's Mehana Brewing Co. via Mamalahoa Highway.
Kerns' brewing career started in Oregon's McMenamins brewpubs. He later opened a brewery in the Philippines, and recently rose to isle brewing fame as the brewmaster for award-winning Maui Brewing Co.
Kerns said he and his wife, Jayne, plan to close on the purchase of an existing restaurant near their Waimea home by summer's end.
The 1,500-square-foot restaurant will remain similar in staff and feel, Kerns said, but will grow to include a 10-barrel brewing system that will initially produce 500 barrels a year of up to 10 styles of beer as well as handcrafted soda.
"It's been a part of the community for eight or nine years," he said. "We are just going to compliment that with the feel of a cantina and brewpub."
Kerns doesn't see himself as a competitor to the Big Island's established breweries -- he would produce a fraction of Kona and Mehana's output -- but instead credits Kona with blazing the trail for other local brew pubs.
Kerns has also helped support the isle brewing industry. Several years ago he drafted legislation that allowed brewpubs to sell growler containers and kegs directly to customers. Now he wants to create his own neighborhood gathering place.
"We are just looking to add a nice community-oriented pub," he said. "You will actually get to know the people who make your beer."
JAMM AQUINO / JAQUINO@STARBULLETIN.COM
Travis and Sheila Young of San Antonio sample the Coconut Porter at Maui Brewing Co.'s brewpub.