As big and diverse as our nation is, there’s nothing quite like Hawaii. The Rainbow State touts tropical weather, unmatched geology, mouthwatering beaches, incredible National Parks, and a culture completely its own.
The islands are also home to a surprisingly strong craft beer scene. No, Hawaiians are not harvesting local hops for production like we do on the west coast of the mainland but locals are taking advantage of select indigenous ingredients and throwing them in tasty batches of brew. Things like coconut, passion fruit, hibiscus, pikake flowers, and more.
Sadly, a lot of the most interesting beers stay in Hawaii, being part of a small enough production scale that it really doesn’t make sense for them to cross the Pacific. Places like Brew Lab, that specialize in intriguing one-offs for the neighborhood or, when traveling resumes, thirsty and curious tourists. Yet, as the relatively young scene grows, more and more Hawaiian-made options will likely land on the mainland.
From large outfits like Kona Brewing, with production facilities both in Hawaii and in the lower 48, to small operations like Beer Lab or Lanikai Brewing, the Hawaiian beer story is a promising one. Here are five we strongly suggest that you can almost surely find in your own zip code:
Maui Brewing Big Swell IPA
It’s not the most hoppy IPA, nor the most unique, but it’s surely one of the most balanced. Maui Brewing Company’s popular IPA is easy on the palate, one of relatively few options within the genre that won’t overwhelm on a scorching hot day — probably because Hawaiians need thirst-quenching qualities in addition to a dose of hops, after a day in the sun. The dry-hopped beer has a nice tropical quality, with a slight sizzle of citrus.
Kona Brewing Hibiscus Brut IPA
While staple beers like Longboard Island Lager and Big Wave Golden Ale are plenty refreshing and available in most stores, Kona has a more creative side, depending on the season. One of the label’s newest creations is arguably its best in the Hibiscus Brut IPA. Deceptively big at 8% ABV, this beer is salmon in color, brewed with a tasty dose of hibiscus and grape-y Nelson Sauvin Hallertau Blanc hops. It’s a nice mix of the cleanness that comes with a good brut IPA, plus just the right amount of bitterness and that floral, tea-like kick only hibiscus can offer. Look out for this beer towards the end of summer in September.
Hilo Brewing Company Mauna Kea Pale Ale
Most of Hilo Brewing Company’s work stays in the archipelago, but a few beers occasionally make it to the mainland. The label’s pale ale is delicious, having won a few awards with its focused flavors and squeaky clean build. It’s the perfect antidote to spicy food and what you should be reaching for after an afternoon spent riding waves or biking through town.
Maui Brewing Imperial Coconut Porter
Another fine option from Maui Brewing, this beer is the heavier sibling of its popular standard coconut porter. It’s as smooth as molasses, with nicely integrated flavors of coconut, baking chocolate, malt, and a hint of toffee. Try it with your favorite mole dish or by itself as a post-meal dessert in a glass that will whisk you away to the land of volcanoes and surf. A bigger beer through and through, it’s more suited for evenings and nightcaps than daytime refreshment.
Ola Brew Tangelo Milkshake IPA
While you can’t yet get it on the mainland, this beer is still worth a mention and should give you one more enticement to visit Hawaii (as if you didn’t have enough reasons to begin with). Look to sample it in house or on the beach by way of growler next time you’re on the Big Island. It’s like a piña colada masquerading as an IPA.