How Hawaii’s Kona Brewing Bottles the Aloha Spirit

October 08, 2018

By October Staff, October 08, 2018

Produced by October for Kona Brewing Company.

Close your eyes and imagine drinking a beer on a sunny day at the beach—maybe you’ve been riding the waves all morning; maybe your toes are in the sand. Maybe you’re in Hawaii. That’s the idea behind Big Wave, Kona Brewing Company’s refreshing, Oahu-inspired golden ale.

Distinguished with a tropical hop profile that jumps from mango to liliko'i—the Hawaiian name for passion fruit—the beer is light-bodied, low in ABV and the perfect session beer for the beach goer. And beyond that, it speaks to a very specific beach: Makaha Beach on the west shore of Oahu, known globally as a wintertime destination for catching seriously big waves. Each year, surfers, body-boarders and paddlers make the pilgrimage to see waves that climb up to 40 feet, breaking off the shore in curls of white water.

“The idea was to make a beer that was the ideal beach beer,” explains Senior Director of Operations Billy Smith. “You don’t want something super heavy and high-alcohol. This is about having a few beers throughout your experience on the beach—we didn’t want it to be bitter, but we still wanted the flavor and aroma of mango, passionfruit and a little bit of grapefruit. It gives you an unbelievable feeling of sitting right next to the ocean, of being on the beach watching the big waves.”

Honoring the “aloha” way of life has been at the heart of Kona Brewing Company’s ethos since it launched in 1994. Founded in Kailua-Kona on the island of Hawaii by father-son team Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa, Kona started as a basic draft brewery, eventually adding on a pub where locals could try local island brews. Now part of the Craft Brew Alliance, it’s become Hawaii’s largest craft brewery, offering several core products nationally like the Big Wave Golden Ale, along with a several award-winning small-batch beers available across the islands.Paying homage to their home state, Smith explains that the brewery taps into the gifts that the islands give for inspiration when creating new beers. For example, the flagship of Kona’s portfolio, the Longboard Lager, kicks back to the early days of Waikiki, where longboards were the “old-school, cool kind of surfboard people had.” Like the Big Wave, it’s a crisp, pale-gold lager offering smooth sipping and a clean flavor.

Billy Smith, Kona's Senior Director of Operations. Photo courtesy of Kona Brewing Company.

Meanwhile, the Hanalei IPA takes its cue from Hanalei Bay on the island of Kauai, known as the green island. Similarly easy-drinking, it’s loaded with tropical fruit flavors—passionfruit, orange, guava—that recall the verdant, hikeable mountains on the north side of the island right past the bay. It’s a quintessential Hawaii experience.

“We used locations and looked at things that are special about being in Hawaii,” Smith says. “We’ve captured surfing, we’ve captured places, and we showcase the flavor and spirit that is around us. It’s combining a sense of place and a way of being.”

That lifestyle certainly goes beyond beer. Kona has integrated itself into the local community with its efforts in sustainability and community organizing. Reducing shipping of raw materials, finished beer and packaging materials, the brewery has doubled down on a commitment to minimizing its carbon footprint. And during natural disasters, like the floods in Kauai and the volcano eruption on the Big Island, the company stepped in to help raise funds for those affected.

“For mainland beer drinkers, ‘aloha’ is typically a greeting—they think of it as ‘hello,’ and if they know a bit more, they know it’s a goodbye,” says Smith. “But really, it’s a way of life. A way with community. And that is really big for us.”

That love of community and celebration of the good life is best encapsulated in the company’s tagline: “One Life, Right? Don’t’ blow it.” Popularized a few years ago in a series of mainland-targeted television ads featuring two Hawaiian brothers commenting humorously on mainlander customs like “multitasking,” the slogan offers a simple message.

“We’re busy with family, busy with work. But you only have one life, and we wanted folks to remember to take time to relax and enjoy family and friends,” says Smith. “And there’s no better way to do that than with a Kona beer!”

ZX Ventures, a division within AB InBev, is an investor in October
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