Thursday, December 6, 2001

Way more than
99 bottles of beer
on the wall

Nobody needs a reminder that the economy is down, but it's not true in every sector. The Kona Brewing Co. Inc. recently celebrated a milestone -- its 1,000th batch of beer.

It's about 290 batches away from its 1 millionth gallon. It's about to unveil new packaging and a new product, and has other big announcements planned.

Incorporated in 1994, the company produces six times more than when it started. It has grown steadily, adding brews, brands, square footage and blues.

Yes, the musical kind. Jonny Lang has performed at KBC, and the legendary band Little Feat may appear in January.

"I love throwing parties," said managing partner Mattson Davis.

In 1998 Kona Brewing Co. switched from a microbrewery, which produces and packages beer and sells it through distributors, to a brewpub, which can pour directly to consumers as well as go the distribution to retail route.

"In order to be successful and economically viable we had to be able to sell to the consumer," Davis said.

That year KBC also opened the Kona Brewpub restaurant to serve food and the beer with which to wash it down.


Spent grain from the brewing process finds its way into pizza dough made fresh daily, to a mushroom farm in return for exotic 'shrooms to top said pizzas and to a local pig farm, which returns the favor with a pig or two for luaus and the Kona Brewers Festival.

"The restaurant has seen double-digit, high-teen growth," Davis said, even after Sept. 11.

"Local people have to have a place to come that's affordable -- $13 per head -- in a comfortable setting," he said. "Visitors need a relaxing place where it's not going to cost them $40 to $50 to have a meal."

As the dot-com boom became referred to as the "dot-bomb," there's been a similar rise and fall for brewers -- a sort of "beer bust."

"The people who were in it to be in business have survived," Davis said.

In mere days his brewpub will introduce a long-neck bottle, to be in distributors' hands Dec. 17.

His next product, Barefoot Barley Wine, doesn't mean the company's turning vintner.

"It is a malt beverage," Davis said, "but the alcohol content is high enough to classify it as a wine."

The new products are likely to be present at the company's seventh annual Kona Brewers Festival in March. Featuring dozens of Hawaii and mainland brewers and Kona area restaurants, the event has been sold out for the past three years.

Erika Engle is a reporter with the Star-Bulletin.
Call 529-4302, fax 529-4750 or write to Erika Engle,
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu, HI 96813. She can also be reached

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