Why Making This Beer Under Contract Mattered So Much to Koholā

Photo courtesy Koholā Brewery

Originally established in 2016, Koholā Brewery quickly became a local hangout and a must-stop for beer enthusiasts from all over the world when on the island of Maui in Hawai’i. 

But fires on the west side of the island, in the Lahaina area, in August of 2023 devastated the community and brewery. Yet, just three months later, Koholā’s staple Talk Story, a Pale Ale, was back in tanks and getting ready to be served to the community.

It was all thanks to local brewery giant, Kona, in offering contracting services to Koholā owner Mary Anderson.

“To be able to say that we had Talk Story back in tanks just three months after the fires was almost a sign to our whole community that we would rebuild — we would survive — and in time even thrive,” she told Brewer. “The excitement when Talk Story got back on draft at places was palpable, people would gather at certain places to connect, ‘Talk Story” (Hawaiian slang to chit chat), and have one of their favorite local brews.”

Contracting with Kona was somewhat of a miraculous solution to what seemed like an insurmountable problem, Anderson noted. Koholā used, what she said, was a very old 20-bbl system.

“Kona Brewing Hawaii is this gorgeous, modern system with equipment we could only dream of,” she said, mentioning a mash press and centrifuge. Neither of which Koholā used to produce its beer originally.

“The question was how would our award-winning brews out of ’57 Chevy’ translate to a modern-day ‘Porsche,’” she said. “There was a lot of work done to translate and really identify the specs that we thought were the most telling of the brew. But, I think that our liquid is tasting the best it ever has.” 

Billy Smith, president of Kona Brewing Hawaii, said in a release that when the Koholā team reached out they immediately began to investigate what it would take to make something like this work. 

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“Our brewing team had a strong sense of kuleana (roughly translated to responsibility and privilege) to figure things out, and as Hawaii’s longest-standing brewery, helping a fellow local brewer is the right thing to do,” Smith said.

Anderson said there are three major things to accomplish for the rest of this year. The first is to start rebuilding its wholesale business with the help of Kona. Koholā relaunched its brands in cans back to the Maui community on March 4.

“Last July we were really about to hit new distribution numbers throughout the state,” she said. “My goal is to try to get back there as soon as possible.”

The next goal is to open a new taproom and restaurant in Wailea, about 30 miles southeast of the original brewery location. Just this week, the brewery posted an Instagram Reel saying that they are in the process of hiring staff for the new location.  

“It will be a craft beer-forward experience and the first time we are able to represent the brand with food,” Anderson said. “We brought on a very successful local chef — Isaac Bancaco — to really bring out who were are for this experience.”

Broadening the brewery’s relationship with Kona — more beer, and more brands — and trying to possibly find the next location for a small system to get back to brewing on a five or 10-barrel system is a key as well.

“This would allow us to do our R&D and make smaller batch stuff,” Anderson said. “That being said, I see the partnership with Kona Brewing just growing from here. They are amazing partners and are making us better.”

Robert Burn, the brewery’s Head Brewer, has moved into a role working with Kona to produce Koholā’s beers there for the time while Anderson said they have been able to retain some of its original staff. 

“We were always a small team, and now that we don’t have our own system for now we lost a few jobs,” she said. “(But) most of my taproom staff will be able to start again once we can open the new taproom.”

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