Recently we were fortunate enough to take a trip to the island of Oahu in the Hawaiian Islands where we stayed in the Waikiki Beach area just to the south-east of Honolulu. The trip was part work and part vacation so we managed to take the opportunity to check out the Craft Beer scene to see how it stacked up against the mainland USA.
Bottled beer selection
Coming from Pennsylvania the first novelty was to find beer, wine and spirits (or hard liquor) being sold in ABC Stores which are local corner shops dotted about all over the Waikiki area. For those who are unfamiliar with PA alcohol restrictions only 6-packs, 12-packs, and 22oz bombers can be purchased from a Bottle Shop whilst cases (24 x 12oz) of beer can only be bought from a beer distributor plus wine and spirits can only be bought from State-owned liquor stores… not the case in Hawaii! 🙂
The selection of beer found in ABC Stores was largely made up of the usual suspects such as Anheuser-Busch InBev and SAB MillerCoors products together with other common imported brands like Newcastle Brown, Heineken, Stella Artois plus Kirin Ichiban and Sapporo for the large Japanese tourism contingent. Other craft beer tended to be from Sierra Nevada and Widmer Bros. Larger stores such as Safeway had a more varied selection but these were either a car journey or a long walk from the beach front.
For local beers the most commonly available are from Kona Brewing Company though their Koko Brown Ale seemed tough to get hold of, Maui Brewing Company, occasionally Hawaii Nui Brewing and once or twice we came across Aloha Lager from Aloha Beer Company. Our suggestion would be to pick up a 12-pack of Kona Brewing which includes their Longboard Island Lager, Fire Rock Pale Ale, Big Wave Golden Ale, and Koko Brown Ale which was priced at $15-20 so good value for decent Craft Beer!
We rented a car for a day trip to go along the eastern coast line of Oahu then up to see the North Shore where the main surfing beaches are before heading back to Waikiki Beach. First of all we visited Diamond Head which is the crater of an extinct volcano that you can visit through a tunnel. Next we called in at the Koko Marina Pub which is owned by the Kona Brewing Company though unfortunately it is not a brewpub so no tours are available.
The location is very picturesque overlooking a boat marina and lake. The menu selection is excellent and the food is superb – especially the fish dishes. Whilst we were there they had the full range of Kona beers on tap plus some draft-only specials. We decided to have a sampler flight of some beers that we had not yet tried:
- Duke’s Blonde Ale (4.9% ABV, 18 IBU’s)
- Wailua Wheat (brewed with Passion Fruit- 5.4%, 14.5 IBU’s)
- Hula Hefeweizen (5.0% ABV, 16 IBU’s)*
- Black Sand Porter (4.9% ABV, 45 IBU’s)*
* denotes our favorites from the above sampler.
After the Koko Marina Pub we continued our day’s drive along the very scenic east coast of Oahu stopping at various bays and also admiring the high mountain slopes before eventually reaching the larger beaches on the North Shore then heading south and inland back to Waikiki.
On another day we ventured into Honolulu and after seeing such tourism sites as the Iolani Palace, Saint Andrew’s Cathedral and the King Kamehameha Statue we headed in the direction of the coast to visit the local Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant.
This Gordon Biersch location is situated next to the Honolulu Harbor so you can take in the action from ships being docked and loaded as well as fighter jets taking off from the nearby US Air Force base.
We opted for a sampler flight which consisted of the following beers:
- Golden Export (Kolsch style – 5.0% ABV, 17 IBU’s)
- Hefeweizen (5.5%, 12 IBU’s)*
- Czech Pilsner (Bohemian Pilsener – 5.6% ABV, 36 IBU’s)
- Märzen (5.7%, 18 IBU’s)*
- Schwarzbier (4.3% ABV, 21 IBU’s)*
- Maibock (7.3% ABV, 25 IBU’s)
* denotes our favorites from the above sampler.
Craft Beer bars
Finding Craft Beer bars on Oahu is not an easy challenge but there is one location that is unanimously ‘the’ place to visit for the best selection on the island, probably the best selection in Hawaii, and possibly even the USA! The Yard House boasts 130 tap handles with beer from Hawaii, the USA as a whole, Belgium, Germany, the UK and other locations… Visit their web site (www.yardhouse.com) for details on other locations from this chain of Craft Beer restaurants.
The beers are fully rotated every 3 months with only the top sellers being served continuously. With some beers they have one keg and once it is done, that is it. There is even an electronic chalkboard displaying ‘limited’ beers which means they have almost kicked, it also displays themed samplers such as IPA’s or Belgian beers.
So why is this establishment called the ‘Yard House’? This is because they sell beers by the ‘shorty’ which is about 8oz, by the Goblet (10oz) or Pint (16oz), and by the Half Yard (36oz).
We visited the Yard House a few times during our stay and indulged in the following beers:
- König Ludwig Weisse Dunkel (5.5% ABV)
- Ayinger Celebrator (Doppelbock – 6.7% ABV)
- La Caracole Saxo Blonde (Belgian Pale Ale – 7.2% ABV)
- Widmer Vanilla Aged Brrrbon (10.7% ABV, 40 IBU’s)
- Iron Fist Hired Hand (Saison – 6.5% ABV)
- St. Bernardus Prior 8 (Belgian Dubbel – 8.0% ABV)
- Lost Coast Tangerine Wheat (5.5% ABV)
- Sierra Nevada Ovila Quad (Belgian Dark Strong – 10.2% ABV, 21 IBU’s)
- Ayinger Brau-Weisse (5.1% ABV)*
- Widmer Hefeweizen (4.9% ABV, 30 IBU’s)
- Rogue Mom Hefeweizen (Brewed with rose petals – 4.8% ABV, 20 IBU’s)
One thing to note about the Yard House is that it is very popular and after 6pm on any evening you will likely have to wait for a table to become free as it is not only an excellent beer bar but it is also a very popular restaurant.
For other places to get some decent Craft Beer is a bit more hit and miss. We found Buffalo Wild Wings to be a good choice which had, along side the usual Anheuser-Busch and MillerCoors offerings, beers such as Sam Adams Boston Lager & Rebel IPA, Kona Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Island Lager, Bass Pale Ale and bottles such as Widmer Hefeweizen. We managed to catch the daily specials on Boston Lager and Fire Rock PA which $5 for a 23oz tall glass is great value.
The hotels bars along the beach are also worth a visit as you can usually find something from Kona Brewing or Maui Brewing on tap and possibly some Deschutes offering as well as enjoy the happy hour as the sun goes down with a great view of the beach and the surf.
If you have any comments about this article or would like to share your craft beer experience in paradise, please feel free to leave your comments below this article – Aloha!