It feels strange to kick off a review of an IPA like this, but… this is not an IPA. There’s no hop bite. There’s not even a hop nibble. And it only has 40 IBUs! It does have fruit-forward qualities, like the classic Hawaiian drink combo of passionfruit, orange, and guava (dubbed POG) that shows up in the aroma and flavor – but you’ll find those elements in plenty of fruity IPAs.
Despite those disclaimers, I loved this beer. Let me explain.
When I landed on Hawaii, I looked like a college student who’d be cramming for finals, didn’t have time to sleep for a week, and then got hit by a train on his way to take the test. It was 9pm, and a rainy night at Kona International Airport in Kailua-Kona. I’d been awake since 1am. After a quick flight from Denver to San Francisco, I’d been stuck in the airport for eight hours due to maintenance. Once I got on the flight, it was so bumpy, I considered asking to be dropped off midway so I could swim the rest.
So it was with that delirious, aggravated state of mind that I arrived with in Hawaii. Obviously I needed a beer.
I didn’t order Kona’s Hanalei Island IPA. The bizarre, low-slung seafood shack/Green Bay Packers bar didn’t have it. Instead, I tried a sessionable, tropical Big Wave Golden Ale. It was delicious. I hadn’t had a ton of Kona beers before, so I wasn’t sure if the beer was great or if my palate was as exhausted as the rest of my body.
What I did know was that everyone I encountered in my first few hours there – from the server to the hotel front desk guy – were nice. Not Midwestern Nice. Nice Nice. Hawaiian Nice, if you will. I had a sandwich and went to bed, sleeping like a college student who just finished finals.
Every brewery tour is the same, in that it oscillates between being boring and very boring.”
I woke up the next morning refreshed and went on the Kona Brewing tour. Every brewery tour is the same, in that it oscillates between being boring and very boring. At least it’s always followed by free beer. This particular tour was entertaining because I could people-watch all the pastel print-wearing tourists who came straight off a cruise ship. The average age was Tony Bennett.
I bolted from the tour early the second Kona’s pub opened. I ordered a Hanalei and took in the scenery from under an umbrella on the pub’s porch. It was about 75 degrees, there was a light breeze, and I was surrounded by palm trees and fronds. I had a cold beer in my hand that tasted like beer and fresh tropical fruit. It’d been about 12 hours since I got off the plane, and I felt different. It wasn’t just the extra sleep I got. I was more relaxed, for sure. More myself, even? I hadn’t even been to the beach yet. Why was everyone I met so friendly and genuine? What was happening here?
And what made this beer taste special? Was it that I was drinking it in perfect weather on an island? That I was happy to be on vacation and lucky enough to have a beer in my hand at 11am?
Maybe passionfruit and guava in an “IPA” is that damn good. And that’s part of it, but it’s something else. It’s a beer that I know I’ll later crack open on a cold night after a rough day. And when I take a sip, I’ll be able to instantly imagine that breeze. Those nice people with the generous, kind spirits. That pineapple I had with breakfast that was the best fruit I’ve tasted in my life.
Yeah, Hanalei’s not an IPA, and when you crack this beer open you’ll be able to see why. And maybe you’ll also be able to see why it doesn’t matter.