Several San Diego breweries are establishing a market in Hawaii, where canned beer rules.
  • Several San Diego breweries are establishing a market in Hawaii, where canned beer rules.
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Hawaii celebrated its first beer week April 17–23, highlighting a growing taste for suds in the island state. Several San Diego breweries sent representatives and beer to participate in Honolulu Beer Week, which included events that took place at 50 locations around Oahu.

Green Flash, Alpine, Ballast Point, Coronado Brewing, Mission Brewery, and Belching Beaver regularly distribute beer to Oahu and other Hawaiian islands, so of course they were there.

"Craft is really making a movement out here," says beer-week organizer Troy Terorotua, owner of Real a Gastropub, one of Honolulu's first craft-centric bars. "Four years ago when I opened Real there was nothing else out there."

"Real was the pioneer," agrees Anthony Messina, who worked as a beer buyer for Terorotua before taking a job with distributor Underground Wines. "There's starting to be craft beer bars popping up all over the island." He adds that Underground Wine Merchants had an all-wine portfolio four years ago but now it's about 80 percent beer — and wine isn't the only beverage losing market share to beer. "There're a handful of accounts that aren't even carrying macro accounts [anymore]."

Aside from drinking craft in bars, the island population has really taken to cans. "A lot of people are very green, environmentally minded," Terorotua says of Hawaii residents. "Breweries that are doing cans are doing really well over here." He says IPAs sell best, but due to the warm climate, lagers and other lower-alcohol beers are gaining ground. "It's 85 degrees every day, so a lot of people are drinking session beers."

Messina adds that, lately, the fine weather has contributed to tart beer styles such as goses and Berliner weisses catching on. "Now that some breweries are canning their sours," he says, "people are sitting on the beach, crushing goses.”

The popularity of cans also holds true in Maui. Thanks to a partnership between Maui Brewing Company and Stone Distribution, Maui gets San Diego brands not yet available on Oahu, including Stone, AleSmith, and Pizza Port. The director of Stone Distributing, Chad Heath, says on Maui, "Modern Times and Mother Earth are some of the best-selling brands from San Diego, mainly because the can packaging is more attractive to fans on the island."

"Each island has its own thing going on," Terorotua says, including small breweries cropping up around Oahu, Kauai, and the Big Island. Honolulu Beer Week grew out of Honolulu Brewer's Festival, now in its fourth year. This year, the festival was the culminating beer-week event — it featured 58 breweries from around the world and attracted 2500 beer fans.

Terorotua says beer's increasing popularity over the past few years convinced him the island was ready to expand the festival to the kind he's seen in other American cities, even if it wouldn't measure up to San Diego's. "We enjoy coming to SD for beer week and that's just chaos," he laughs. "It's a beautiful chaos."

(corrected 4/26, 12:20 p.m.)

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