How This New Hawaiian Brewery Tackles Brew Day Logistics

The newest brewery in Hawaii, Howzit Brewing, opened this month on the island of O’ahu and founder Justin Heikkinen said although it took a while it was sort of a blessing for the number of delays that happened.

“We don’t have just three beers on when we opened up,” he said. “It gave us time to get Lagers in a tank and not have to rush them.”

Adding Head Brewer Phil Pesheck in June, Howzit — located in a section of the state Capital of Honolulu called Kaka‘ako — started planning its brew days well ahead of a normal timeline most breweries would have. Why? Always assume something will go wrong.

That’s not a pessimistic look though, with Hawaii thousands of miles away from most vendors, mistakes in ordering can happen and it means a much longer window to get something done right if those mistakes happen. It’s just something built into the schedule, Pesheck said.

“If I’m planning for a brew that I’m going to do in mid-January, I’m ordering the stuff right now (early November),” he said. “If it’s messed up, I still have another shot ordering the next month.”

Pesheck did note that there have been a few times where they had everything set up to brew a certain beer and when the specialty malt order came in, they were given the wrong item and had to push back that brew day or make something else with what they had on hand. Being a brand new brewery, the ability to house a lot of grain isn’t in the cards at the moment, and staying price-conscious before even selling their first pint was important.

Creating a beer lineup means tapping into what will sell on the island as well. For Howzit that means a variety of IPAs and Lagers will be important.

“Up in the northwest, there are big beer markets. You can make an Amber Ale, and you can easily get rid of all because you got enough accounts that will try it,” Heikkinen said. “You can get rid of 30 kegs of an Amber Ale pretty easily.

“Down here, there’s two beer bars and some other places that kind of want to be beer bars. So if you create a dog … you’re going to hang out with that dog for a long time.”

Relative to the mainland said Heikkinen, craft beer is still in its infancy in terms of figuring out what it wants to be.

“There’s some legacy players that have kind of walled themselves in by creating their business that’s been successful by having grocery store distro and all this stuff. Now they have to make flagships all year, maybe once a quarter they get to do something new and exciting. When Beer Lab opened, they started doing more homebrewer sort of stuff. Then Josh at Hana Koa did the same thing. I think he’s the best brewer on the island right now.

“It’s still pretty wide open relative to something on the mainland, which is one of the reasons I chose it for the market for beers. We kind of get to step into this role and help create the consumers’ palate. We can see what they’re buying at the one bottle shop on the island. Well, that’s the stuff we drink also, so that’s the stuff we like to make. I think there’s a big opportunity to create more modernized styles of IPA and others because the other brands can’t because they walled themselves in and hopefully people respond well to that. So far people have been pretty happy with that.”

Heikkinen had been planning to open a brewery for years. Born in Hawaii but living in the Pacific Northwest for most of his adult life, when he started to look into opening up something he did his due diligence.

“I evaluated a bunch of cities that were close to recreation that I liked to have: surfing or snowboarding and mountain biking,” he said. “Then I looked at saturation levels and Hawaii just kept kind of bubbling up. I was born here and always wanted to get back. It just made too much sense at the time.

“There were only eight breweries or so for a million residents. And now it’s 13 or 14. In a four-mile radius from my house in the Pacific Northwest, there was more. It felt like the right time.”

Although O’ahu has the most tourism among all the Hawaiian Islands, Howzit is there for the people that live there.

“If you are a brewery that the locals go to, the tourists will find it,” Heikkinen said. “If you are a brewery that the tourists go to, the locals won’t.

“Sure, you could have a million people give us $7 once in their life. But I’d rather have 500,000 people spending $21 a month.”

Originally planning to open with a friend as the brewer, life plans changed and Heikkinen instead opted to hire a brewer with experience to get Howzit launched back in February. Pesheck, who was the Head Brewer for Seattle’s Burke Gilman Brewing, saw an opportunity for himself to launch another brewery from the ground up and jumped at the chance.

“Everything’s set up for a new renaissance in beer,” Pesheck said. “With all the new ingredients, all information brewers are sharing out there right now … as long as you have a couple of years as a solid technical brewer, some know-how, and willing to really study, anybody can do it. So why not you?”

Pesheck added that cracking open a book or studying online is the key to better beer.

“I developed more of an analytical aproach, really looking at what other brewers are doing, and crunching a lot of numbers,” he said. “It starts out with what hops brewers aren’t interested in and which they are really interested in. You’re combining analytical approach with all this information and you just have to put in a little bit of effort and your beer is gonna keep getting better and better.”

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