APR/MAY 2005 | REGIONAL | WEST
Brews for the Big Rock and Tears from Pele : Tenth
Annual Kona Brewers Fest
By Mike Pitsker with Lisa Pitsker
It's been 10 years since the first Kona Brewers Festival
and the beginnings of the craft-beer revolution on Hawaii
with the opening of the Kona Brewing brewpub. It certainly
doesn’t seem like that much time has passed since the
inception of the best-run brewfest in the Pacific, but indeed
it has, and over those years the fest has only become better.
Even as the event has grown to become a major fund-raising
source for several island charities, gathering over $150,000
for its beneficiaries, it has also become the most comprehensive
island source for all that is beer: Craft brews from every
Hawaiian brewery, the mainland West Coast and around the world
mix with the state’s best homebrew competition for a
consummate brew experience. And if all that weren’t
enough, the event takes place in one of the most wondrous
places on Earth: my favorite “Big Rock,” the Big
Island of Hawaii.
It all starts with the breweries. Every year, multitudes
of brewers jostle for position on the festival’s limited
participation list. Every year, several are turned away for
lack of space. Most of those rejected try again the following
year, so there is always a new brewery or two for each festival.
This year, Six Rivers Brewing and Bear Republic Brewing visited
from Northern California, and both breweries from Kauai, Waimea
Brewing and Keoki Brewing, hopped islands for the event. All
told, 34 breweries took part in this year’s festival.
Then there are the restaurants. Since one of the fest’s
main beneficiaries is the Chefs de Cuisine, an American Culinary
Federation group dedicated to the education of future chefs,
the restaurant contingent is the largest of any festival of
similar size I have yet experienced. This year, no less then
24 vendors signed up for the event. Food of all flavors and
styles was served with a flourish and an eye toward presentation
throughout the fest grounds, with booths interspersed with
the brewery tables for a delicious mix of appetizers and beer.
Combining the flavors of a stout with a chocolate mousse concoction,
or an IPA with a crunchy pork taco, is a huge portion of the
festival atmosphere; this is not just another beer sampling.
Craft brews from every Hawaiian brewery,
the mainland West Coast and around the world created a consummate
But when it comes to atmosphere, how can any festival site
compare to the raw beauty of the Kona Coast? On an isthmus
behind the King Kamehameha Resort, the site juts out into
the blue, blue Pacific. Palms sway in the warm breeze to the
sounds of local Hawaiian music. Small sailing ships and larger
tour boats dot the horizon. How can one possibly visit such
a paradise and not be hooked for life?
Usually, that’s how it goes. This time, however, the
Ten-Year Jinx took its toll. In years past, the weather for
this event has been absolutely beautiful or, at worst, overcast
and slightly chilly. Most of the time it falls somewhere in
the middle, with slight breezes and few clouds. But this year,
as festival announcer Lyman Medeiros said, “Ten years
of blessings are all falling in one afternoon.” The
traditional Hawaiian blessing performed annually by local
Hawaiian legend Pekelo Day and his retinue of dancers didn’t
stop the deluge this year. The sky opened and the tears of
the Hawaiian Goddess Pele fell on the Kona Brewers Festival.
The weatherman said the day would be “partly cloudy
with scattered showers,” but there was nothing “partly”
or “scattered” about the downpour that struck
that Saturday afternoon. Kailua-Kona’s main drag, Ali'i
Drive, became Ali'i Channel, flooding in several areas and
flowing along its route until it emptied like a river into
the churning Pacific. The "King Kam" fest site became
a large mud puddle surrounded by flooded streets and walkways
… but still the crowds came.
Even through rains that approached the torrential, people
came — 1,500 strong, wrapped in ponchos or raincoats
or plastic garbage-can liners, with umbrellas often forming
a solid roof overhead. With faces peeking out through makeshift
cover, people stood in line outside the sold-out festival
and waited their turn to enter. They slogged through puddles.
They dripped as they stood in beer lines. Drenched volunteers
poured beer and served food to soaking revelers while the
fest crew darted about, dodging raindrops and erecting improvised
And through it all, the spirit of the festival remained positive.
People offered to share their umbrellas with strangers, and
some of the heartiest decided they might as well strip down
to swimsuits and sandals; their clothes weren’t going
to keep them any drier. And the beer flowed and food was served,
and everyone had a grand time.
At one point, during a five-minute lull in the storm, I enjoyed
a crab cake with a Maui Brewing Double IPA and watched a young
guy juggle an umbrella handle, a mug of beer, a spoon and
a dish of braised lamb stew. That’s entertainment! The
sky opened up again at that point, but the show went on. Wet
recycling stations still helped separate trash from treasure
to support Recycle Hawaii’s growing statewide program.
Awards were still presented to the homebrew contest winners.
The fire dancer still sizzled, and the recycling-oriented
Trash Fashion Show pranced along its soggy runway. We all
left the fest thoroughly soaked and completely satisfied.
(Sunday’s weather was perfect. Go figure.)
Weather malfunction? What weather malfunction? Mark the second
Saturday of March 2006. We’ll see you next year!
Mike Pitsker is an associate editor of the
Celebrator Beer News and a longtime beer-industry