When Maui Brewing Co. moved from their small facilities in Lahaina to their new (and incredibly beautiful) location in Kihei, Kohola Brewing got its start. The brewery, which officially opened its doors on 22 December 2015, took over Maui Brewing’s old space and their old equipment. The place itself is a little bit hidden behind a strip mall, and from the highway you don’t even notice any of the beer tanks, some of which are sitting right outside. In fact, the only suggestion that a brewery was even there was a small cardboard sign on the side of the road that was easy to miss. I asked William about it and he laughed and said they had to be strategic with what times they put that sign up or “the sign police will get us”.
William is one of the partners in charge of the brewery. He’s a little short, but has a gigantic, permanent smile. He was one of the first people I met when I walked in. Before this venture into owning a brewery, William had been working at LAX. From the way he talked it was clear he didn’t mind that beer was his life now. I had a flight of four of Kohola’s offerings as I talked to William. The Ales Man American Porter was my favourite, a 5.5% expresso-esque porter served on nitro. With a laugh, William let me know that this beer was born of a mistake. It was originally supposed to be a brown ale, but he over-roasted the malt. Mistake or not, I’m sure the Kohola family isn’t upset with how it turned out.
William introduced me to Andrew Brunson who has a scruffy red beard, square-framed glasses, and a huge passion for beer. He transplanted to Maui after working in a few breweries and a bourbon distillery in Kentucky, and is now brewing for Kohola. He gave my father and I a mini-tour of the brewery. At one point in the tour (with more than a few expletives), he pointed how in love he was with the heat-exchanger that Maui Brewing had left behind. That’s the kind of guy he is – he fawns over this stuff.
Right now the Kohola portfolio features two pale ales, a pilsner, and wheat beer, but Andrew already has his sights on new, wilder beers. He described to me this sour beer he’s been thinking of with vivid detail. He wants to play with funky yeast and novel flavours, but he’s got to earn management’s approval first. On my part, I hope he gets it. I’d love a gose to fight the hot Hawaiian sun while I’m relaxing on the beach or a delicate saison to sip as the sun sets. With Andrew’s enthusiasm, I’m confident his recipes will turn out fine.
Kohola is still young. The owners have been planning this brewery for a while, but it’s just been a month since they’ve opened their doors. They’re still draft only, and probably will be through all of 2016. And they aren’t without their hiccups. Aside from the Ales Man happy-accident, William also admitted to me that Talk Story, their Pale Ale, had a big diacetyl presence (although, I can’t say I noticed it too much). Their taproom, even on opening week, felt a little empty and quiet. But the building blocks are there (literally, they have a giant Jenga set in their taproom), and they aren’t lacking in ideas and creativity. Undoubtedly they’ll have more bumps along the way and will have some tough decisions as they gain a bigger presence in Maui. Being so far from the mainland, Hawaii doesn’t get a lot of craft beer, especially not any ‘whales’. Kohola has the opportunity to make a huge presence in an underserved market. I know I’ll be back to Kohola, and I’m excited to see how they’ve developed.