The Big Island of Hawaii is an amazing place that is filled with natural wonders, from volcanos to snow capped mountains. There really is no place on earth quite like it. Among the many must visit spots is the small town of Waimea for it’s rolling green hills, stunning views of Mauna Kea and Mauna Loa and amazing beer. Since 2011, Big Island Brewhaus has been creating sought after beers like Overboard IPA, White Mountain Porter and The Red Sea of Cacao among many others. Owner and brewmaster Thomas Kerns has quietly built Big Island Brewhaus into a must stop destination for any beer lover visiting Hawaii. Lucky for residents on other islands and travelers who don’t plan on visiting the Big Island, Big Island Brewhaus recently started bottling their beers and distributing statewide. Their latest release, Holy Humulus IPA, just hit Oahu and I thought it’d be a great time to catch up with the man behind this great new IPA.
Where are you originally from and how did you end up in Hawaii?
I was born in Minnesota, grew up in Oregon, and first moved to Maui to take a break from college in 1986. I stayed a few years, forged lifelong friendships and love for living Hawai’i. I returned in 1997 to Maui to open Fish & Game Brewing Co. as the brewmaster. Stayed there through 2008 helping Fish & Game become Maui Brewing Co. from 2005 on.
How did you get interested in brewing and what was the first beer you ever brewed?
I became interested in brewing for the love of beer with flavor. I began to discover imported beers in the 1980’s. Lived in Germany 1984-86 and fell in love with German Beers
When did you know that you wanted to become a professional brewer?
After many batches of home brewing i decided I wanted to pursue it professionally; around 1992.
Do you remember the first beer you tasted that really opened your eyes to the world of craft beer?
I call them “Beer Epiphanies”. One of my first was tasting a can of Munich Lowenbrau in 1984. The malt character blew me away! I have since pursued to duplicate those flavors.
You were the head brewer at Maui Brewing Company for many years and helped them establish themselves. What was your favorite beer that you helped create there?
From 1997 to 2008 I brewed nearly 1,000 batches of beer and really learned and matured as a brewer. The initial owners as well as current owners Garrett & Melanie Marrero entrusted me with creative control; so I was able to put creativity with new ideas on the same level as quality control. Favorite beer? So many great memories but developing the Coconut Porter was a blast; I started “playing” with toasted coconut in 2002 and it became a journey of small batch experiments until the first full size batch in 2005 which happened to win the Gold Medal at the World Beer Cup in 2006. That was fun!
How did you decide on Waimea on the Big Island as the location to open Big Island Brewhaus?
My wife lived here in Waimea for 10 years before I met her. She moved to Maui in 1998 to join me and we visited Waimea often; We decided after a while that was where we wanted to be.
What is your current favorite beer to brew or drink?
They are all my children, so it depends on the mood. Right now I have been into our Holy Humulus IPA and our Starshine Ginger Beer.
We use many varieties and all are important, Czech Saaz in pilsners and Simcoe in IPA’s are essential to our recipes.
Any new beers you are planning on bottling and distributing?
Besides the very recent release of our whole cone hop flower Holy Humulus IPA, we are working on the future release of The Red Sea of Cacao, an imperial red brewed with chocolate and sea-salt. It was a huge hit when we brewed the first batch earlier this year.
Do you ever have plans on distributing your beers outside of Hawaii?
Not really. I think we can sell everything we brew here in Hawai’i. I am a firm believer that craft beer is best close to the source. But I am open minded. There has been interest in Japan.
Where do you see the craft beer industry in Hawaii headed in the next 5 years?
Growth. Hopefully quality growth. More and more people are discovering the joy of craft beer.
What is the Hawaii’s Brewers Guild and what are some of the issues it is representing and dealing with right now?
The Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild is an association of brewers that brew 100% of their beer in Hawai’i. It’s aim is to support issues that help support what we are doing.
Are there any breweries or other brewers that inspire you and influence you?
Many, all over the world. From Belgium’s Hildegard van Ostaden at Urthel, to Stephan Michel at Mahr’s in Bamberg Germany, to my many friends in the US. Craft beer is in an exciting time!
When you are not brewing, what is your favorite thing to do?
I love to get on my surfski kayak and find some solitude on the ocean or get on my bike and ride…mountain or road, I love to ride.