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The Big Island Mash – Kona Brewpub, Big Island Brewhaus, Mehana Brewing and Saving a Dog

April 9, 2011

Here is the conclusion of our recent Good Beer Trip to the Big Island of Hawai’i.  If you missed it, don’t forget to read The Big Island Mash – Lodging, a Tsunami and a Brewers Festival first.

Kona Brewery and Brewpub
This was our second time to the Kailua-Kona, and we were excited to go back to the Kona Brewery and Brewpub.  Sure they’ve become a big player in the craft beer scene since being brought into the Craft Beer Alliance, but their pub is a can’t miss for any craft beer enthusiast.  After checking into our condo it was the first place we went.  We made a second visit, and I hoped to make it thrice, but that was thwarted due to the Tsunami.

Located at the end of the Brewery Block industrial park the brewpub it is a bit of an oasis.  You can’t miss the two large Kona logo embossed grain silos, with the “Growler Shack” next to them.  They started brewing here in 1995, and now brew 2,000 barrels a years for the brewpub and distribution throughout Hawai’i.

The restaurant is mostly outdoors, taking advantage of the year round 80 degree weather.  Don’t worry; there is plenty of vegetation and umbrellas to keep it very pleasant and to protect you from the sun.  There’s also a a very happening bar indoors, that seems to always be packed.

It’s a great place for everyone (locals, visitors, families, and lovers) to come to enjoy a great meal, with great beer.  We’ve eaten here a few times and have never been disappointed. We ordered the Ka’u Pesto Pizza on the recommendation of The Big Island Revealed, along with a salad to split.  Both the Pizza and the Salad hit the spot.

For beer, they have all the standard Kona offerings that we can find in Seattle (Big Wave Golden Ale, Longboard Lager, Wailua Wheat, Firerock Pale, Pipeline Porter, and the new Koko Brown), a few more local flavors (Duke’s Blonde, Lavaman Red, Castaway IPA, Black Sand Porter, and Hula Hefeweizen), plus a few seasonal offerings (Da Grind Coffee Stout, Bourbon Aged Da Grind, Bourbon Aged IPA, and Cascadian Red Ale).  The first visit, after traveling all day, we weren’t in the mood for sampling, and heck we were planning on going back several more times so we went straight for pints; a Cascadian Red for LuschC and the Lavaman Red for me.  We both followed it up with a Bourbon Aged Da Grind Coffee Stout on nitro.

The next night we made our second trip, this time just for beer.  The place was packed, it was Thursday after all.  It looked like were going to have to stand this one out, but just after ordering, a nice gentlemen at the bar graciously made room at the bar for us.  He gave up his seat for LuschC, and he moved to his buddy’s seat that had to go take a call from his wife.  (It was clear his buddy wasn’t returning)  I had to stand but LushC got a seat.  Yipee!

LushC ordered a Cascadian Red Ale (again), and I went with the Bourbon Aged IPA.  Wow! What an amazing beer, things were surely looking up!

As I was waiting to order my second beer for the night (either a Koko Brown or another of the delicious Bourbon Coffee Stouts), our new friend at the bar, the one that gave LushC his seat got a phone call.  Up to this point all was going great.  We met a new friend, a Resort Manager and Iron Man Tri athlete, and were enjoying the great vibe and beer at the bar.  Our friend returned from his call, and broke the news.  A massive earthquake just hit Japan, and we were under a Tsunami warning.  Our first thought was no way, not again.  We were in Molokai during last year’s Tsunami after the earthquake in Chile. (Also on our first day) we reached for our phones and checked twitter, and Huffington Post confirmed the story. Great!  Not knowing what the night would bring, I chose not to get the second beer, and we headed back to our condo to prepare for the impending evacuation.

Bourbon aged Da Grind Stout

Cascadian Red – A nice session beer with a slight malt flavor and a floral hop kick in the finish. Light, but flavorful for the warm weather. So could LushC had to get another one the second night.
Lavaman Red –Hint of malt and caramel with a bit of hops at the end. Not too special but a good warm weather pallet cleansing beer.
Bourbon Aged Da Grind Coffee Stout ­– Very smooth and creamy with tastes of chocolate, coffee, and a bourbon finish. Big, but quaffable, and oh so good!
Bourbon Aged IPA – A nice IPA smoothed out with a nice vanilla oak flavor. It’s too easy to drink.

After stocking up on groceries and loading the Jeep, we fled to higher ground finding a nice dark quiet parking lot. It was 11pm by now, and we would remain here the rest of the night, sleeping in the car. We woke up the next morning and listened to radio for the “all clear” signal that would allow us to return to our condo.  We waited, and waited, found some food and coffee at the Standard Bakery in Keauhau, but the word never came.  We eventually decided to start driving, sticking to higher ground heading north towards Waimea.

Along the way, we stopped at a park looking for a bathroom.  There was only a port-a-potty, and this was good enough for me. In the parking lot there was one other vehicle.  LushC saw them let a dog out their door.  At the time she thought they were just lazy, and didn’t want to walk the dog.  When I was relieving myself, the car left, and LushC decided to walk around the park, which turned out to be a War Memorial and cemetery, to look at the view.  Low and behold, out from the trees, came the dog, the bastards left it. It was a well behaved, young Miniature Schnauzer that came right to LushC.  We got it some water, and started wondering what to do. It had a collar, but no tags, was hungry, and had burrs in its fur.  We quickly fell in love with her, and had visions of returning home with her.

I spotted a Coffee Plantation Store just below us so we decided to take her down there, thinking that if she was a local dog maybe they’d seen her before.  She jumped in the car with us, assumed her position on the center console, and we drove down the hill.  Well, they’d never seen her before, and immediately called the Humane Society, who was going to send a truck up.  We decided to wait with the little girl, so we could talk to them about adopting her if she was not claimed.  Once again we were waiting.  The longer we waited, the more attached we were getting.  It seemed like hours, but was probably only 30 minutes or so.  (We were a bit sleep deprived anyway) Eventually I lost patience and looked up the number and address.  Heck, we could see the Humane Society way down the hill.  So, we called them, told them not to send the truck, and took her in ourselves.

I had a difficult time taking her in, but still managed to do so.  They looked her over and scanned her for a microchip.  We inquired about their policy for lost dogs and adoption.  They told us they normally wait 4 days and then adopt them out, and the finders get first dibs, but because of the circumstances they’d probably wait a couple extra days.  That would work; we’d still be on the Island and could come pick her up, making plans in between for places to stay with her and how to get her home.  They did find a microchip, but it wasn’t registered.  We gave them all of our contact information telling them to please let us know either way.  As we walked by her for the last time, when she was getting petted by four or five staff members, she let out a loud short bark.  I’m not sure if she was saying thank you, good bye, or don’t leave me, but whatever she said, it broke my heart.

Any way, we didn’t get more than a mile away when we got the call, they had found her owner who was very happy and was already on the way to get her.  Even though we weren’t going to get to adopt her, this was such great news.  It was the right outcome and we knew that if one of our dogs was lost we’d want someone to do the same thing.

It was barely 10am and we couldn’t get back into our condo. We proceeded up to Waimea, a western town in a valley at 2,700 feet above sea level. When I say western, I mean the cowboy boot and hat kind.  After checking out some shops it was lunch and we decided to go look for somewhere to have picnic.  We drove through town, and had a great surprise.  We found The Big Island Brewhaus, a new brewpub that just started serving their own beer a week before.  Karma was here, and our luck was changing!

Big Island Brewhaus

Big Island Brewhaus and Tako Taco Taqueria
Being Mexican inspired the Big Island Brewhaus and Tako Taco Taqueria throws an interesting twist on the traditional brewpub. Brewer and owner Tom Kerns and his wife Jayne have created a great and unique craft beer experience.

Located on the Hawaii Belt Road you can’t miss them on the right as you enter Waimea or on the left as you are leaving. They are proud of the fact that an elevation of 2,764-feet above the sea level they are officially the “highest” brewery in Hawai’i.

They have a great bamboo wrapped patio that leads to the Hawaiian open beamed sky lit interior. The walls are colorful and inviting, giving you that island feel.  There is plenty of space at the bar, several tables, and window bar seats to choose from.

As usual, we found seats at the bar, and settled in.  On only a few hours of sleep, we probably shouldn’t have had a beer, but we are troopers, and deserved it.  We saved a dog after all.  On this day, they had two of their own beers on tap, as well as beers from Maui Brewing and Hawaii Nui.  Of course, we went with the house made beers; the Paniolo Pale for LushC and the Aloha Lager for myself.  On the board we noticed that they’d be releasing an Irish Stout on St Patrick’s Day, good thing we’d be driving back by on the 18th.

We took a look at the menu. Instead of burgers, sandwiches and pizza there were burritos, tacos, enchiladas and south of the border inspired salads. Yum!  Wanting to eat healthy, LushC opted for the Grilled Fish Salad, which she really enjoyed.  I went a little less healthy and got the Grilled Fish Taco which I relished.  The fish was fresh, grilled to perfection, topped with salsa and a little cheese and wrapped up in a soft corn tortilla.  What more can you want!

We wanted to stay for another beer, but thought better of it; paid the check, bought some swag, and headed back to our condo, hoping we would be able to get back in. We were able to, ending our tsunami evacuation adventure.

A week a later we returned the Big Island Brewhaus on our way from Hilo to Hawi, this time much better rested. The Irish Stout and Overboard IPA were now pouring, both on nitro. Oh man, they were both so smooth and easy to drink!  We were so glad we stopped.  It was so good the first time, LushC got the Grilled Fish Salad again, and I went with another good choice, the Fish Burrito.

After a couple of pints, we purchased a growler, filled it with Paniolo Pale, and headed out.  We’ll return the next time we are on the Big Island.

Big Island Aloha Lager and Paniolo Pale

Aloha LagerLight Golden in color and well carbonated. Very crisp with malt and light honey flavor.  It was wonderful, and very, very easy to drink.
Overboard IPA (nitro) – Straw colored with a thick creamy head and a sweet hoppy aroma.  Very smooth and sweet upfront followed by a floral hop finish. Bitter, but not too bitter.
Irish Stout (nitro) – Dark brown with a thick tan head and a smoked malt aroma. Smooth, robust with lots of dark malt flavor and a hint of Irish peat, think Guinness, with flavor.
Paniolo Pale – Sorry, no notes, but we liked it enough to get a growler to go.

The Sunday after the Kona Brewers Festival, we packed our bags and traveled to Hilo on the east side of the Island.   The following Monday, after playing tourists (Shopping and checking out waterfalls), we stopped by Mehana Brewing.

Mehana Brewing Company

Here’s what we learned while at the Mehana brewery. Every Mehana beer is a Hawai’i Nui beer, but not every Hawai’i Nui beer is a Mehana beer, but Hawai’i Nui beer is brewed at Mehana Brewery.  Huh?

Let’s end the confusion. Eight years ago the Mehana Brewery opened in a former Pepsi-Cola plant. Two years ago Hawai’i Nui Brewing joined forces with Mehana forming the largest independent craft brewery in Hawai’i. Now the Mehana Brewery in Hilo brews and bottles Mehana, Hawai’I Nui and Keoki (Purchased by Hawai’I Nui in 2007) beers.

Mehana is a production brewery with a small tasting room and gift shop.   You can get samples of many of their beers on tap to help with the decision on which bottles or kegs to take with you. So you can show off to all your friends that you just returned from Hawai’i, you can also get their logo ware including shirts, sweatshirts and glassware.

On the day we visited we were graciously hosted by Dannie. (Who gave us all the good intel) We each opted for a five sample round of all their beers on tap that day and included a souvenir sample glass to take with us.

Humpback Blue Golden Belgian (Mehana) – Light, crisp, and refreshing with a bit of the Belgian yeast flavor.
A.B.L.E American Strong Ale (Hawai’I Nui) – Golden in color, with a very floral hop aroma and flavor.  Got the LushC “I like it” approval.

A.B.L.E. stands for Achievement Beyond Life Experience and is a tribute beer for their friend and brewer Brit Atrim who was paralyzed in a horrible workplace accident.

Tsunami IPA (Hawai’i Nui) – The New Zealand Hops give this IPA a different flavor than West Coast and Traditional IPA’s  we are used to.  So different I couldn’t come up with a description.  It was a sweet and malty IPA and the hops really didn’t over power it.  All I can say is give it a try.
Volcano Red (Mehana) – This is flagship beer from Mehana that can be found on tap and in bottles all over the island. It is light bodied and has well-rounded malt flavor with crisp hop finish.  Better on tap than in the bottle.
Hapa Brown Ale (Hawai’i Nui) – Rich and malty goodness in a lighter form factor with a nut and chocolate finish.  Very good!

A few more days in Hilo, and then we were off to the northern end of the island (With a stop at Big Island Brewhaus on the way). We spent two more nights finishing all the beer we bought along the way.  Soon enough, our time in paradise was up, and we had to return to dark, grey and rainy Seattle Spring.  We had a great time on the Big Island, and can’t wait to return.

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