Wow, 2015 was a huge year for beer in Hawaii. Talk about an explosion. The beer scene in Hawaii has never been bigger and things are looking to get even better in 2016.
A total of seven new breweries opened their doors in 2015. SEVEN!!!!, though one (Hoku) never really even got started. There was a time not too long ago when we barely had six breweries in the entire state. Six out of the seven new breweries were opened on Oahu, which for years lagged far behind the other islands for some very odd reason. It seems that Oahu finally has some very stable, well run breweries that I think will be around for a long time to come.
The rapid pace of brewery openings is a clear sign that Hawaii, and specifically Oahu, is finally catching up with the rest of the country’s obsession for locally crafted beers. What I found most promising was the variety of breweries that opened in 2015. We had larger production breweries (Lanikai Brewing and Kohola Brewery), brewpubs (Waikiki Brewing) and a number of small nano breweries (Stewbum & Stonewall, Taps & Apps, Home of The Brave) all get going within months of each other. This variety is a sign of a healthy beer market. Take a look at any other major brewing city in the country and you’ll find a range of breweries from huge to very small.
This wide range of breweries is fantastic for the beer community. We now have more choices than ever to be found everywhere from the supermarket shelf to dozens of drafts handles around the state. These choices for consumers and helps to create more competition for brewers…and competition is GREAT! For a long time in Hawaii there was very little local competition, leaving locals with only a few choices of locally made beer. Now if you want a locally made IPA, you have at least 6 to choose from. This choice will eventually help create competition among breweries.
I recently wrote an article in the Star Advertiser about the importance of healthy competition and it can only happen when there is a certain number of producers (breweries). Like many mainland cities, people will gravitate to the beers that taste the best. This forces other breweries to step up and slowly raises the bar on quality. Poor crafted beers in a competitive market will eventually die off. This is what is so exciting about the explosion of brewery openings in Hawaii. More breweries, more choices and a more informed and critical consumer.
I believe is plenty of room on Oahu for more breweries and more competition. At least two breweries are set to open in early 2016 and vie for our dollars and support. Aloha Beer Company is slated to reopen in Honolulu after a few years hiatus (their packaged/bottled beer has continued to be contract brewed in California). They have a new location and recently hired a new local brewer. No details on the type of beers or brewery set up yet, but it looks like it will be a mid size brewery and tasting room. Beer Lab HI is projected to open this month with a 7 barrel capacity and a nice sized tasting room. The guys behind this brewery are focused on creating super vibrant and juicy IPAs, 100% Brett beers and dry Belgian styles like Saisons.
2015 was also a great year for new distributed arrivals from the mainland and around the world. I’d venture to say that our selection of beer in Hawaii now rivals many other places in the US. Over the past 3 years over 150 new breweries have gained distribution to Hawaii and our beer shelves are loaded! Notable additions in 2015 were Lagunitas, Cascade, the entire 12 Percent Imports portfolio (Evil Twin, Off Color, Stillwater and many more) and the reemergence of Shelton Brothers. How awesome is it to have a steady supply of Jolly Pumpkin and Anchorage Brewing available!?
As we look forward into 2016 the trend of major craft breweries expanding to Hawaii will continue. It’ll start in February with the arrival of New Belgium. Fat Tire, Ranger and all the other favorites will invade tap handles and every supermarket. Hurray choices! We can also expect a few other pretty big announcements in the first half of the year. By the end of 2016 there won’t be many beers that you’ll need to travel to the mainland to get ;). Most top 20 craft breweries who are looking to expand nationally are looking at Hawaii. Of course when I’m allowed, I’ll share the news.
The other big, or big for nothing depending on how you look at it, news of 2015 in Hawaii was the passing of the “growler law.” Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad the law got passed and retailers and restaurants now have the ability to fill growlers, but so far the laws full potential hasn’t been realized. Most people were beyond excited about the idea of being able to fill up a growler anywhere with their favorite beer. In theory this sounds great, but in practice it hasn’t really worked out.
The number one issue with growler fills has been pricing. It’s completely out of whack and until it comes down, this will just be a novelty for a few who choose the overpay to fill their jugs. The number one reason you haven’t seen many restaurants or bars offer growler fills is because the economics just don’t work out for them (for more read my previous growler post.) The places that do offer growler fills do so at incredibly inflated prices when compared with equivalent growler fills in other US cities. This mark up has nothing to do with “the cost of Hawaii” and everything to do with draft beer mark ups.
It makes absolutely no sense to fill a growler up with beer you can get in can or bottle at prices sometimes 100% cheaper. I don’t see growler fills really taking off here like it has in places like Portland until bars restructure their fill prices OR someone opens a true growler focused retail location like The Growler Guys (BTW, look at their prices!!!). A growler focused shop has a completely different business model then regular bars and restaurants do, so they can offer much cheaper prices on fills. Until then, get used to $22+ fills of beer you can easily find in much more stable packaging like bottles and cans for much less.
2016 will also be a year of more great beer bars and better beer menus at existing restaurants. Slowly but surely we’re starting to see most places offer at least a few quality beers on their menu. Maui Brewing Company will open a brand new pub in Waikiki and a full restaurant at their brewery in Kihei, the team behind Real/Brew’d and Tropics is opening another fantastic spot in downtown and I’ve got a pretty cool project opening up in Kakaako that I’ll be announcing soon. It’s going to be a great year for beer in 2016. Cheeers to beer and lots and lots of choices!