As a proud American traveler (who loves craft beer) and has been to every state, one of the many observations I have made is that the areas known for tourism tend to have less than inspiring beer choices.
Wisconsin Dells… awful.
The Grand Canyon… terrible.
Hawaii… pretty darn good…
Now I know you’re probably pretty confused right now, and so was I. When I landed in Hawaii, I fully expected the beer to be uninspiring. Now, I don’t say this often, but I was glad to be wrong.
One common theme you will see about Hawaiian beer is their Island Ales. Be prepared for lots of coconut, tropical fruits, and occasionally a little sea salt.
Lanikai Brewing Company
My first stop on my Hawaii beer tour was Lanikai Brewing. Lanikai is located in Kailua, HI—about a 30 minute drive from Waikiki. They have a small brew pub named Tap & Barrel and they make my favorite Hawaiian brew.
Momona is a limited release barrel-aged stout that’s featured around the beginning of the year. The beer tastes like a Hawaiian version of Founder’s famous Kentucky Breakfast Stout. You get a hint of coffee and bourbon and loads of chocolate and coconut. So good, I even smuggled 3 bottles of this beer home with me.
Lanikai’s standard bearer beers are Moku Imperial IPA and Pillbox Porter. Both of these will put you in an island mood. Lanikai also offers some good sour beers that tend to mix tropical flavors with a hint of sea salt.
Inu Island Ales
Inu Island Ales best exemplifies the Island Ale. Inu is one of the newest and smaller breweries on the island in Kaneohe, about 30 minutes from Honolulu. They feature three types of beer: stouts, sours, and IPAs.
The stouts are sweeter and generally feature coconut. The sours are all under the name of Island Punch with different varieties such as guava and peach, raspberry and strawberry. The IPA’s tend to be of the hazy style and are fruit bombs.
My favorite beer was Inu Island Stout with Coconut—rich and chocolaty with loads of coconut. Inu Island Ales was the best brewery I visited in Hawaii.
Big Island Brewhaus
Big Island Brewhaus is one of the few breweries on the island of Hawaii and the only one really worth visiting if you had to choose. Located on the north side of the Big Island, the beer here isn’t as good as Lanikai or Inu Island Ales, but still worth a stop if you’re parched.
Their standard-bearer is Overboard IPA, which is available at most bars in the state. It’s your standard IPA with a bit of sweetness. My favorite beer at Big Island was Red Sea of Cacao. This beer is a red ale with a chocolate and fruity twist.
While you’re at Big Island, grab a plate of fresh caught ahi fish tacos and the fish bites, which come with an aioli/ketchup/habanero dipping sauce. After you’re finished at Big Island, go enjoy the nearby view of Mauna Kea.
Maui Brewing Company
Maui Brewing is one of the two nationally known breweries in Hawaii and has three locations. Two are in Maui (one a brewpub and the other their actual brewery) and one is located along the main strip in Waikiki.
Maui’s standard-bearer beers are Coconut Hiwa Porter, Big Sell IPA, Bikini Blonde Lager and Pineapple Mana Wheat. Coconut Hiwa Porter is the best of the bunch. Make sure you try the Imperial Coconut Porter while you’re here too, it’s an excellent coconut beer with rich flavor, but not too overpowering.
Kona Brewing Company
For those of us who are craft beer snobs (guilty!), breweries like Kona Brewing, Widmer Brothers, Redhook Brewery and Goose Island are generally known as sellout breweries because the evil empire of Anheuser-Busch InBev wholly owns them. But even I have to admit, they make some decent beer.
Kona also has two locations, with one in Oahu and one on the Big Island. Koko Marina Pub located in the eastern suburbs of Honolulu in Oahu is my personal recommendation.
Head there for dinner and you will leave with good food in your stomach and a good knowledge of Hawaiian beers. If they have the Old Blowhole Barleywine on tap, grab one of those, it’s a pretty solid Barleywine.
Village Bottle Shop And Tasting Room
If you’re looking for the best beer selection in Hawaii, head over to the Village Bottle Shop and Tasting Room in Honolulu. They are located in an outdoor mall in the Kaka’ako neighborhood on the western side of Honolulu.
Village Bottle Shop has an ever-changing tap list of 18 beers, along with a decent selection of wine for your friends or spouse if they don’t like beer. Village Bottle Shop also has several coolers full of bottled and canned beer from across the country.
While they put an emphasis on Hawaiian beer, the Village Bottle Shop has a great selection of beer from everywhere.