Kona Brewing’s Rich Tucciarone
What’s your current position at Kona Brewing Co., and how did you get started in the craft brewing industry?
I am VP of brewery operations/brewmaster. My “job description” for years at Kona Brewing Company literally was “anything that has to do with beer.”
As an undergraduate studying food science at Cornell, wondering if perhaps I was destined to make salad dressing or fruit roll-ups, a brewpub opened in Ithaca. This opened my eyes to a much broader variety of flavor, diversity and beer styles than what I was currently drinking on my college budget, and they served yards and half-yards…pretty cool to a college kid! Flavorful beer was a food science application that I could much better relate to! I decided to continue with food science and focus on fermentation and product development. After graduation I loaded up my car and headed west to find a job in a brewery. I launched my brewing career with Breckenridge Brewery in the early 90s when they expanded to Denver. After six years with Breckenridge and a travel sabbatical with my wife—complete with beer R&D of course—I accepted the job with Kona Brewing Company in 1999, here on the ecologically diverse, beautiful and still erupting Big Island of Hawaii.
What’s new at Kona Brewing?
We are currently in the process of getting some of our beers certified organic and continue to focus on sustainability in our pubs and brewery. We have expanded our mainland production to both coasts. This has been great—it enables us to brew Kona beer closer to where we are selling so we can deliver fresh beer to our consumers and also minimize our carbon footprint by reducing fuel consumption/freight. Also, we continually experiment with many ingredients and beer styles, including coconut, passion fruit, ginger, vanilla, Kona coffee, etc. Recently we have expanded our cramped barrel cellar and started tinkering with some small batch and bottle conditioned beers, which is very exciting!
What’s the best part of being a part of the craft brewing community?
What isn’t great about it? The friendly competition and camaraderie are unlike any other work community. It is amazing being able to make beer and have a positive impact on the public. Having fun at my job is an added bonus!
What do you like to do in your time away from the brewery?
Why would I want to spend time away from the brewery? I love to spend time with my wife (who loves beer) and our son. I’m an avid mountain biker, skier and windsurfer. We are passionate about the outdoors—mountain and ocean sports, travel, cooking and of course enjoying great beer!
What’s your favorite food and beer pairing?
Depends on the mood of course, but lately a citrusy Brett-accented saison with fresh grilled ono or mahi and fresh local herbs has really been hitting the spot. Also a rich barleywine with strong toffee notes and fresh hoppy-citrus aroma alongside crème brulee or panna cotta…or perhaps something simpler. Whatever beer I am in the mood for—beer a la carte!
What’s your biggest accomplishment unrelated to your job?
Parenting—absolutely! It is probably the biggest challenge, too!
What’s your favorite beer that your brewery does not produce?
Too many great beers to have a “favorite” but several that I enjoy very much include Jolly Pumpkin Oro de Calabaza, Bridgeport IPA (especially fresh cask), Full Sail Black Gold Bourbon Imperial Stout, Starr Hill’s LOVE hefeweizen. Damn, this question always drives me nuts…so many great beers, it’s like choosing a favorite child! (Perhaps that’s why we only have one!)
What’s the most exotic travel destination at which you’ve had a chance to sample the local beer?
Absolutely no disrespect intended to Bamberg, Munich, UK, Antarctica and all the other great beer destinations, but Italy is pretty awesome, especially from an innovative culinary perspective. For a country that lives vino, it has an amazingly vibrant craft beer scene with incredibly passionate brewers. As one brewer said to me “We have no beer history here in Italia so we can brew whatever we want!” And the food over there…’nuff said!