Famous for abundant waterfalls, pristine beaches, copious rainfall and stunning mountain ranges, the Hawaiian island of Kauai never ceases to amaze. The same can be said for this small island’s craft brewing scene: It’s gone totally troppo.
With a local culture dedicated to producing and consuming locally produced edibles and drinkables (think farm-fresh produce, premium Kauai coffee, fine sugarcane rum and fresh-caught seafood), laid-back Kauai has the perfect setting for successful craft beer-making and, of course, frosty, fresh-made beer drinking, all accompanied by savory island-style pub “grindz” guaranteed to do the hula with your taste buds.
The Garden Island, as Kauai is known to the locals, boasts two breweries: Kauai Beer Company, near the airport in Lihue, and Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill in tiny Port Allen. Both are small scale, like most ventures on the island, but very popular with visitors and locals alike. Visit on a busy night, and the impression is that the craft beer scene on Kauai is as robust as on its sister islands of Maui, the Big Island and Oahu.
Kauai Beer Company
“I’ve been brewing beer since before dirt,” chuckles Kauai Beer Company (kauaibeer.com) owner and head brewer Jim Guerber. Guerber and his son Justin run the show at the compact brewery and restaurant, located on low-key Rice Street in Lihue, not far from the airport.
Guerber, a former software programmer, started homebrewing in the 1970s while living in Belmont, Calif., getting his supplies from a beer supply store in Berkeley called Wine and The People. “I really enjoy crafting things — all the fermentation things, like bread and beer,” Guerber says. After moving north to Sebastopol, Calif., Guerber met Byron Burch, a champion mead-maker and beer guidebook author, and “learned how to make beer and not only make it fun but make it right.”
Guerber first came to Kauai on vacation 40 years ago and “really fell in love with the place.” After moving there 20 years ago, he started making beer in his garage and giving it away for fundraisers. “People loved the beer, and in 2006, I thought: Well, there’s only one brewery on this island, and there should be more.” He said he realized, “If I didn’t start something like this, I’d really regret it.”
Guerber found a space, acquired his brew system from a defunct brewery in Portland, and converted a former nail salon, real estate office and parking lot into his dream, the Kauai Beer Company. As Guerber’s marketing and communications director, Larry Feinstein, says, it was “serendipity” and “being at the right place at the right time.”
Laid-back Kauai has the perfect setting for successful craft beer-making and fresh-made beer drinking, all accompanied by savory island-style pub “grindz” guaranteed to do the hula with your taste buds.
Kauai Beer started out with no kitchen and teamed up with local food trucks to provide pub fare once a week. The brewery has a full-fledged kitchen now but continues the food truck tradition every Thursday night from 5 to 9, when two food trucks pull up outside on Rice Street and vend everything from gourmet pizzas to Puerto Rican and Mexican gourmet platters and Thai food to the pub-goers.
During the day and on other nights, Kauai Beer’s kitchen offers a wide variety of eats: Bavarian pretzels, island-style citrus ponzu pork sandwiches, beer-battered chicken or pork belly banh mi with house kimchi, seared fish tacos with seasonal local fish, mac and cheese, oxtail stew and braised pork belly — savory fare created to pair with the brewery’s flagship brews, Lihue Lager and Black Limousine, and other assorted beer offerings.
Guerber first started making Black Limousine in 2005 in his garage. “We developed it over time,” he says. “It’s a really complex schwarzbier that people rave about. I think we have it perfected.” He adds: “Lihue Lager was being made with spring water from the hills when we were in Poipu. When we started making beer here in Lihue, we had the tap water tested, and it was surprisingly soft. We characterize the water as being similar to that in Pilsen, Czech Republic, so I thought: We can make a pilsner, a light beer.” Lihue Lager was born. “The first batch we made was a Munich helles, a very simple beer, and it turned out totally delicious. We first made it in 2013.”
The Bicentennial Double IPA is Kauai Beer Company’s most recent addition, and it celebrates the brewery’s 200th batch of beer. It is loaded with Centennial, Simcoe, Cascade and Motueka hops.
In addition to Lihue Lager and Black Limousine, Kauai Beer offers two other beers year-round: Tropical Armadillo and Beer Co IPA. Seasonal beers include a maibock in the spring, an Oktoberfest in the fall, an oak-aged porter in wintertime and an Irish stout for St. Patrick’s day.
Rotating in the lineup are a semi-dry OG Wheat beer with orange zest and guava, a Smokin’ Blonde smoked beer and a malty, full-bodied Bock Bock doppelbock.
Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill
In a warehouse near the boat docks of tiny Port Allen, Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill (kauaiislandbrewing.com) brewmaster and co-owner Dave Curry and crew brew a wide variety of beers for their burgeoning brewpub.
On the island’s far western side, the brewery claims its status as the world’s westernmost brewery, near the international dateline. Its quirky motto is “the last beer before tomorrow,” which places it on any true craft beer lover’s bucket list.
Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill opened in July 2012 and has its origins in the Waimea Brewing Company, which was located on the historic west side Waimea Plantation. When the lease was up, owners Bret and Janice Larson, who live in Issaquah, Wash., along with Waimea brewmaster Curry and his wife, Christina, decided to buy the equipment and become co-owners of a new brewing venture. They moved the brewery to Port Allen, where they would have more space to brew the delicious beers they were known for.
With its 35-foot-high corrugated metal ceilings and walls, Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill has an open, spacious feel. Chandelier lights hang from the ceiling, and a catwalk leads to the second-story mezzanine, where perfect views of Hanapepe Bay can be enjoyed, especially at sunset. Also on the second floor, six vintage pinball machines, the largest collection on Kauai, provide retro entertainment.
With its 35-foot-high corrugated metal ceilings and walls, Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill has an open, spacious feel.
A Southern California native, Curry has been brewing beers since he was 19, when he bought a homebrewing kit. He has been on Kauai for over 15 years and got his feet wet in brewing at Ukiah’s Butte Creek Brewing and at other Northern California breweries before moving to Kauai for the brewing job at Waimea Brewing Company, where he worked for nine years.
Curry says his signature brew is his Captain Cook’s IPA. “I like the West Coast–style IPAs. I’ve been brewing that recipe for over 15 years. I got that one the way I like it.”
While he favors IPAs, Curry brews a number of lagers along with Westside Wheat; Leilani Light, a golden ale; Lilikoi Ale (passion fruit–infused); Wai’ale’ale, a golden ale; NaPali Pale Ale; the aforementioned Captain Cook’s IPA; The Fonz IPAaaaaaaaaa; Canefire Red; Paniolo Brown Ale; and Pakara Porter, named after a surf break just up the road. There’s something beer-wise for everyone under the sun at Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill.
The food is as impactful as the beer, featuring fresh-off-the-boat seafood — like a seared ahi poke wrap with wasabi aioli and an ale-battered ono served with house-made red papaya chili tartar sauce and fresh-cut house-made fries — and meat dishes, like the island-smoked pork (a half-pound portion of tenderized kiawe wood–smoked meat) served with sautéed sweet island onions on a bed of shredded cabbage, and a pulehu sirloin steak, also served with sautéed sweet island onions on a bed of shredded cabbage. The menu pairs well with the 13 or 14 beers regularly on tap and makes Kaua’i Island Brewery & Grill an enticing destination for true craft beer lovers visiting Hawaii’s Garden Island.