I met Andrew Brunson back in December when I visited Kohola Brewery on Maui. Brunson had recently moved to the islands to take up the brewer job at Kohola. It was a huge leap of faith for the Kentucky native. New brewery, thousands of miles away from home and a culturally different place. But Andrew was beyond stoked to be in Hawaii and brewing with Kohola. There’s something about a new brewery and the excitement of creating new beers that is infectious. For Brunson, the opportunity was too good to pass up and he’s been hard at work cranking out beers at the Lahaina brewery along with head brewer Justin Brouhard. Here’s a quick chat with Brunson.
How did you first get into brewing and when did you make the leap to professional brewing?
I first got into brewing in college when I won a cheap extract home brew kit at a silent auction. From there things escalated pretty rapidly and I ended up brewing in the backyard nearly every weekend with my friends Josh and Matt. I made the leap to professional brewing the pretty standard way. I started off on the packaging line at West Sixth Brewing and worked my way up to production brewer. I was also involved with their pilot program where I was brewing a different 15 gallon test batch nearly every week. Even though I went pro, I’m still a home brewer at heart.
Where else have you worked and in what roles?
I’ve been involved with three breweries in Kentucky and I’ve also done some distilling as well. You know…because it’s Kentucky. Bourbon barrels outnumber people in that beautiful state.
How did the opportunity to brew on Maui with Kohola happen? What made you take the leap to work for a new brewery all the way in Hawaii?
The opportunity to come to Maui and brew for Kohola presented itself in a pretty straightforward way. I saw a job posting online and I applied. I chose to come brew for Kohola over the other breweries that I was looking into because of their emphasis on quality and their commitment to the environment and community of Maui. The climate and natural beauty of the island may have also played a role in that decision as well.
What is your role at Kohola?
My official title is “Brewer”, but depending on what kind of mood I’m in I’ll probably tell you my title is either “Yeast Farmer,” “Chief Scientific Officer,” or “Head Floor Scrubber.” There are a lot of hats that a brewer has to wear in a small startup brewery. Some are more glamorous than others, but I wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Did it take long for you to get dialed into the new system?
Brewing on a new system always throws new challenges at you no matter how much experience you think you have. We have things pretty well nailed down at this point, but with any brewery there are always surprises when you least expect it.
Has brewing in Hawaii presented any challenges versus your experience on the mainland?
The biggest challenge of brewing in Hawaii can be summed up in one word..shipping! I have never had to give it much of a thought before, but now if I need something small I have to get creative on how I’m going to get it without paying a million dollars to ship it here. It seems like everytime one of us goes back to the mainland we come back with a checked bag full of random odds and ends.
What type of beers do you like to brew? Will we see your personal touch in upcoming beers?
My favorite things to brew are IPAs and Stouts. Designing those kind of recipes is an absolute blast because there are so many different elements to tinker with. Sours and wild fermented beers are also a lot of fun, because its a bit of a gamble. Is this going to be awesome or gross? You don’t find out for such a long time and its incredibly fascinating to see how the flavor profile changes over time. A spontaneously fermented beer that is a month old tastes nothing like it will in a year.
Is barrel aging or sour beers something Kohola will try in the future?
I love playing around with barrels, and funky cultures. That is something that I would love to do more of in the future. Right now the focus is on more conventional beer styles while we get our feet under us, but hopefully soon we will have a chance to experiment a little more.