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Kona Brewers Festival 2015
Two Decades of Aloha
The 20th annual Kona Brewers Festival was held March 14 on the grounds of the King Kamehameha Hotel on Kailua Bay — an amazingly beautiful location for this now-famous festival that attracts beer lovers from the islands, the mainland and indeed the world.

The Big Island of Hawaii has undergone many changes over the past few decades: population growth; increased tourism; and expanded infrastructure, including widened roads, beaches formed by blasted lava, and the development of even more condos and hotel properties. Industry has grown as well, at a slower island pace than on the mainland, but is still vibrant and often invasive. The people of the Islands of Hawaii have embraced the older, slower ways while incorporating newer strategies of development.

In the beer community, older restrictions have eased, thanks to pressure from newly established breweries and their supporters. Homebrew clubs have sprung up (thanks, “Rocket” Rod Romanak!), and voters have made their opinions well known. Over time, those opinions have paved the way for more breweries in more places. Taxation has bent to allow more imported materials and exported products, and people’s tastes have changed in step with the times.

The Kona Brewing Company has been on the front lines of the Hawaii beer scene for over 20 years now, tackling those earlier restrictions with clever work-arounds until there came a time, with agreeable legislation, when they were no longer needed. Kona Brewing began as an island dream of Cameron Healy and his son, Spoon, and the first beerfest was in celebration of their first year in business.

Kona Brewing is now owned by Craft Brew Alliance, which also operates Redhook and Widmer Brothers breweries. The arrangement has allowed Kona products into more markets, and its expansion has created more jobs in more states. Here on the Big Island, the local brewery puts out all of the draft beer for Hawaii, including several pub-only styles and cask-conditioned products. Some of these brews are featured at fest time, and we were able to taste these delicious offerings at the various events during the week prior to the fest itself.

This year, tickets sold out in three minutes after they went on sale online in January.
One of eight fundraising events held during fest week is the Brewers Pa’ina, a luau-style dinner served in the open air on the fest site behind the King Kam Kona Beach Hotel. The meal included several one-off Kona brews and a vast selection of Hawaiian-style foods. At the Pa’ina, I particularly enjoyed a cask of porter with raspberries, as well as the Castaway IPA, brewed fresh for the event, paired with a spicy pork taco and fresh, crunchy slaw. The sun set, the stars came out and winked and twinkled, and the party continued late into the evening.

Hula dancers entertained the crowd, and Hawaiian music soothed the senses while we dined. An art auction added $20,000 to the proceeds, which The Bill Healy Foundation will distribute to deserving local charities.

Estimates have this year’s funds raised at over $100,000, for a total output of $850,000 over the 20-year run of the Kona Festival. Looking back at the original beerfest, which raised $5,000 for Recycle Hawaii, the event’s first beneficiary, one can see the strides that have been made over the years. Recycle Hawaii is still a big part of the event schedule, setting up recycling stations throughout the event site and having volunteers instruct attendees on the proper way to separate trash from treasure. Composting stations around the island help replenish much-needed topsoil for farming and landscaping. When you visit Hawaii and see the glorious flowers everywhere you go, you get an idea of how important this concept is to a closed ecosystem such as a chain of islands where there just isn’t room for landfills.

But the main event is the brewfest. This year, tickets sold out in three minutes after they went on sale online in January. Some of the tickets are available at the brewery for locals. People fly in from around the world to enjoy an afternoon of food and fun paired with beer from the islands and the mainland, all under the sometimes-clear Hawaiian sky, with the sound of crashing waves just off in the distance.

Lyman Medeiros resumed his annual duty as master of ceremonies, introducing local dignitaries and local bands and “talking story” with the crowd. The annual Trash Fashion Show demonstrated the local idea that refuse should be reused and recycled in creative ways. The homebrew contest winners, with entries from around the United States, claimed their medals and bragging rights.

Top-quality restaurants send their best offerings, and the number of food and beer pairing options is amazing.
But most people show up for the beer and the food. Each year, a few new breweries are featured, along with the Hawaiian beers we all expect. Top-quality restaurants send their best offerings, and the number of food and beer pairing options is amazing. Some 53 breweries showcased their products on the beautiful isthmus fest site. More than 30 restaurants shared their best as well. Hawaiian brewers included Big Island Brewhaus (which served my favorite IPA), Hawaii Nui, Honolulu Beerworks, Kona Brewing, Lanikai Brewing, Maui Brewing, Mehana Brewing and Nani Moon meadery. Many of the rest were West Coast in origin, including first-timer High Water Brewing from Pittsburg, Calif., serving its famous Campfire Stout, and longtime attendee Main Street Brewery from Pleasanton, Calif.

Taps-off at 6:30 p.m. comes too soon, the music fades and the pop-ups come down. Before long, the event is a memory, but the good works continue, as many charities gain significantly for their future works. Come out and be a part of this, the best-run beer event on the Pacific Rim. See you when the Kona Brewers Fest turns 21 next year! Visit



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