Like thousands of vacationers before him and thousands since, Garrett Marrero made his way to the bar at Kimo’s, the waterfront landmark in Lahaina, and ordered a Longboard Lager. Wherever he found himself, Marrero liked to drink local, as a matter of taste and fellowship—to sample whatever was fresh, distinctive and imbued with that intangible dimension that poets and philosophers have for ages known as a sense of place. Growing up in San Diego, that meant the aggressively hoppy ales of Stone; as an economics and international relations major at UC Davis, it was the floral tartness of Sierra Nevada; as an investment adviser in San Francisco, Marrero turned to the citrusy tang of Triple Rock. Longboard Lager was lighter than those big California beers, a crisp, dry, hazy golden brew, but Longboard was still the flagship of the Kona Brewing Company, and on that summer afternoon in 2001, as the waves crashed against the Maui shore and Lana‘i and Moloka‘i hovered in the distance, the moment begged for a Hawai‘i beer.
|Kim Lutz, originally from California, started out as a homebrewer. Five years ago she moved to Hawai‘i to brew for Maui Brewing Co., and for the last two years, she has been the lead brewer at the company’s brewpub in Kahana.
What’s the hallmark of a great beer?
Being able to taste the vision and passion of the brewer in the beer.
What’s the hardest thing to get right when you’re making beer?
Consistency. I brew on the pub scale—two hundred gallons at a time—and I don’t use sensors and computers. I eyeball everything, and that means it’s more variable and might not be as consistent. It’s handcrafted.
What’s your favorite of the beers that you brew?
The Pueo Pale Ale and the Freight Train IPA. I like to experiment with the different flavors the hops can give.
Favorite local craft beer besides your own?
The liliko‘i IPA at the Big Island Brewhaus. It’s tart and fruity.
Favorite local ingredient to brew with?
Tangerines from Upcountry Maui. I use them in our La Perouse White at the pub—the skins, the juice, everything puréed.
Weirdest local ingredient you’ve ever brewed with?
Last year I made five hundred gallons of a Maui onion beer for the Maui Onion Festival. I used caramelized and charred onions in a light brown ale, easy on the hops. People really liked it.
What’s different about brewing in Hawai‘i?
We’re really isolated here. And there’s the expense of shipping in ingredients.
How do local beers stack up against their global counterparts?
I feel like we can compete with them all: Mainland brewers, the English, the Germans, the Belgians. We’ve gone up against them with our beers, and we’ve medaled. We’re doing great.
Best hangover cure?
A mango açai bowl or a Bloody Mary.
You’ve got a meal of poke, lomi salmon and poi: What beer goes best?
A spicy and refreshing beer I make called Ginger Saison. It’s a Belgian golden ale made with Maui ginger, a peppercorn blend and coriander.
You’ve got a six-pack of your favorite local beer: Where’s the best place in the Islands to drink it?
The cliffs at Honolua Bay at sunset.
“That’s when the bartender says, ‘You know, that beer’s made closer to you than it is to me,’” recalls Marrero. “And I’m like, ‘Huh, what do you mean?’ I was drinking that, not knowing the truth. That insulted me as a tourist.”
In umbrage Marrero found opportunity. He quit his job, sold his suits, snatched up the mauibrewingco.com domain name and set out to become the premier brewer of exclusively Hawai‘i-made beer. Starting in 2004 with a pub in Lahaina’s Kahana Gateway Shopping Center, then converting an old gymnastics studio into a brewery, Marrero based his enterprise on aluminum cans, which are locally manufactured and lighter to ship. Along the way, sometime last year or the year before, Maui Brewing eclipsed Kona Brewing in on-island production— Marrero now calls his operation “Hawai‘i’s largest craft brewery” even though Kona Brewing claims to be “the largest craft brewery in Hawai‘i.” Underlying the semantic gamesmanship are the stats: although Maui’s 18,000 barrels pale to Kona’s 175,000 barrels, all of Maui’s beer is brewed in Hawai‘i, while only 12,000 barrels of Kona’s beer comes from its Hawai‘i plant.
“I don’t mean to call them out, but their whole objective is to hide the origins of their beer,” says Marrero, who is 33, intense and chiseled in his Maui Brewing muscle shirt. Despite his protestations he seems to relish the role of watchdog—to be the monster that Kona Brewing created —seizing any opportunity to puncture its myths. He has accused the company of hucksterism and deception. He has testified (unsuccessfully) in support of legislation that would have required any product labeled “Hawaiian” to be made entirely in Hawai‘i. “Craft beer,” he likes to say, “is about integrity.”
As a sign that Marrero’s crusade has grown too nettlesome for Kona Brewing to ignore, Davis revealed just after the Kona Brewer’s Festival that he intends to begin phasing in a new label this year. Where before Hawai‘i was the only address, the packaging will now list all the places Kona Brewing makes beer: Kona; Portland; Woodinville, Washington; and Portsmouth, New Hampshire. “We’re not going to have a press release or make a big deal about it,” says Davis, who could not help thinking of Marrero as he described the amended design. “But when it happens, it’ll take all the wind out of his sail.”
To suggest that such a change will quiet Marrero underestimates his distrust of Kona Brewing—and perhaps the mileage he gets from playing David to a beer-making Goliath. A more complete label is “a step in the right direction,” Marrero says, but not one that will clarify matters for the consumer. Of Kona Brewing’s four locations, only three make the beer that could have ended up inside a bottle; Kona itself is the one place the beer could not have come from. “They’re just creating more ambiguity,” Marrero says.
In return, Davis offers a weary smile. “We’re actually very similar people,” he says. “I just happen to be fifteen years older.”