Hawaiian Brewers Gather

I traveled to Maui to meet with the Hawaiian Craft Brewers Guild (HCBG) this May.

Though the Hawaiian brewers have been working hard to grow the presence of craft beer in the state, it’s a state with very unique challenges, and Hawaii had a tough year for craft beer. Total craft production dropped from 26,741 bbls in 2012 to 25,082 bbls in 2013, and with the massive growth across the country, Hawaii’s rank of breweries per capita dropped from 31st to 37th. With about 9 breweries in planning, and seven craft breweries total, it’s a small but resilient community. Most brewers are expanding and increasing production, and at least three breweries are opening this year, so 2014 ought to show growth once again.

It’s been a couple years since I checked in on the community, and though the HCBG non-profit status is approved, not much more organizational progress has been made. I am working with the HCBG board towards finalizing the guild’s organizational documents, and a member distribution list is underway. Fundraising events are being considered, and establishing member dues are next on the to-do list.

The HCBG met at Maui Brewing Co Pub in Lahiana. Eight folks in attendance, the largest in-person attendance at a HCBG meeting. President of the HCBG, Tom Kerns, owner of Big Island Brew Haus, and Garrett Marrero, owner of Maui Brewing Co led the agenda. Three breweries-in-planning attended as well. Two of those breweries already have equipment and are well on their way towards opening doors.

Garrett opened the meeting with a poignant ‘why have a guild’ discourse. I wish I could’ve captured Garrett’s energy, passion, and genuine heartfelt consideration for having a guild with a united voice. I would share it at every guild meeting. He also touched a bit on the fierce geocentric nature of each island, a common divide also playing out in many other states – Texas comes to mind as a great example of the very different cultures of Houston, Dallas, and Austin. Garrett proactively suggested perhaps working together for the better of Hawaii beer would be a more productive approach. Indeed, the Texas Craft Brewers Guild is succeeding at finding that balance and effectively advancing their state’s craft beer industry.

The goal of the HCBG will be to continue to develop relationships within the community to support each other with the upward growth of the state’s industry. In addition, it’s critical to educate the state’s consumers, retailers, and legislators on the unique costs of manufacturing on the islands, the benefits of supporting local. As it is across the country, it’s vital they continue work on preventing category destruction through cheap promos by large beer brands.

As I do at each guild meeting I attend, I introduce myself, the Brewers Association, and offer updates on the guild community, and national BA initiatives, such as the Small BREW act, the 2014 Capitol Hill climb, the small brewers’ caucuses, the FDA spent grain proposal, as well as Brewers Association resources avail to the HCBG and brewery members.

Hawaii’s 2013 legislative session closed with an enormous success in HB 2484/ S3042. The new law goes into effect in July and creates a small craft producer pub license. It removes brew pub production cap all together (which was 5k bbls, then 10k bbls, then 30k bbls, and is now infinite). It also allows distillers to self-distribute.

This bill will be beneficial for the new Maui Brewing Co business plan which is projecting close to 40k bbls this year. Along with the beautiful location, a new pub, and a shiny new brew house, Garrett also has the largest, most advanced lab in the state and has generously made its tools available to all HCBG members. We’ve seen this in other states, such as Green Flash’s offer to VA Brewers Guild members to utilize their new lab facility in Virginia. As you can imagine, the Brewers Association is always enormously grateful for this altruistic drive towards elevating beer quality in the state.

Following the guild meeting, Maui Brewing hosted a social meet and greet for all the brewers who participate in the Maui Brewers Fest, held the next day at the Maui Arts Center. The fest is quite outstanding, with great beer from all across the country, amazing local food that never seemed to run out, and set against the gorgeous backdrop of the spectacular Maui mountains. It’s pretty great.

There has never been a more exciting time to be a craft brewer. Because of that growth and excitement, now more than ever, it is critical that every craft brewer actively participate in their state brewers guild to protect and enhance the momentum that we have built. Hawaiian craft brewers are continuing their efforts towards unification, they recognize how critical the HCBG is to the state’s brewing industry success. I am, of course, always grateful for the opportunity to be of support to this unique and beautiful state.