Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Don Ho, it's off to Hawaii we search of Good Beer---Part 1

Hawaii. It's awesome; It's beautiful. Everyone should have the chance to see something so naturally beautiful more than once in their lives. The food is fantastic, the drinks are refreshing, and good beer can be found here and there but not everywhere.

(We just might have found the best Mai Tai at Halekulani)

See, if I could exercise just a bit of brevity, you might have read a long time ago of my first trip ever to Hawaii. My in my trip all the way back in October. My trip that touched on the busyness of business, the relaxation of resorts and spas, the thrill of an adventure, and the spiritual emotion that nature's awesome beauty and wonderment can awaken.

The trip began as a business trip that would take up all five days of the first week of October. It was spent on the island of Oahu in downtown Honolulu...Waikiki Beach area to be exact. Patty joined me and we turned it into a vacation with another week on Maui after Oahu.

Oh, and my Lancaster County Correspondent (remember him? he hasn't checked in for a while around here) was along too. Have you followed closely over time to realize that he's a co-worker and a friend as well? So, this worked out to be a real nice trip. Business, friend, wife, tropical just need to find a good beer or two.

Most people know of Kona Brewing and Maui Brewing companies. Kona actually brews very little, if any, beer on the islands anymore except for draft-only local consumption. Apparently, most or all has been contracted out to Redhook (or shall I say Craft Brewers Alliance?). If I had more gumption, I'd track down the truth in that statement.

In my beer preparations for this trip, I gathered that Maui had much more beer geek cred than Kona. Maui Brewing and its owner Garrett Marrero have been around just 5 years, but have gathered a lot of interest in their beer, particularly CoCoNut Porter and Father Damien, for which they have won WBC Gold (2006) and GABF Bronze (2009), respectively.

(the entrance to Kona Brewpub in Koko Marina, outside Honolulu)

But, Kona has a brewpub just a few miles from our Waikiki hotel, so that seemed like a no-brainer. Though, while I'm throwing out awards here, I should mention that Kona's Pipeline Porter gets kudos from the beer geeks...from the judges as well (GABF Bronze, 2007).

Before I get out-of-control here, let's rewind and take things from the top. I've got to make sure that I don't short-change you out of any of the high-quality beer travel information that you're accustomed to finding around here!

Actually, it's quite simple. As I've already described, this trip comes in two parts. The first part goes with the first week. A lot of me doing my day job thing with really no beer excursions at night to speak of. There was, however, a Thursday night dinner at Roy's (the original one) to celebrate my birthday (my 38th, since you asked, thank you).

This isn't a food blog and since there was only one beer involved (and nothing much to speak of, at that) I will only make one more comment about Roy's. I'd never been to Roy's anywhere before and was at first hesitant to take in what I figured might amount to a "chain experience" at Roy's. Boy, was I ever wrong! From the front door to the table seating, service, and ambiance to the food, drink, and presentation, this was a top 10, likely even a top 5 dining experience of all-time for me. Everything about Roy's impressed me and has me anxious for my next visit to a Roy's restaurant...even if I'm already preparing myself for a great letdown.

So what the first week really boiled down to was the Saturday and Sunday preceding the workweek. Not wanting to let a wasted day go by, we took the first flight out on Saturday morning and arrived in time to grab a late lunch/early dinner. Of course, the three of us were a bit punch drunk from the long flight.

No, I didn't say drunk...punch drunk, I said. I mention this because, yes we did indulge at around 10am at O'Hare airport in Chicago at the Goose Island Pub. Apparently, and maybe this is true at all airports?, the liquor license covers the entire airport. Because.....when asked if we wanted a Matilda "to go," we appeared quite a bit dumbfounded. Yes, the bartender says, "I can fill a plastic cup for you to walk through the airport with." Well, giddyup!!

Back (once again) to Hawaii. The best we could do for gathering ourselves and coming to a decision by committee (a bad thing to do when all on the committee are jetlagged) was to stagger down the street a block or so to find what appeared to be a decent restaurant. Decent, it was.

We had dinner and a few beers at LuLu's Waikiki Surf Club. It's a second floor, open-air restaurant at the end of Waikiki Beach near the City Zoo and Diamond Head. With a decent food menu ranging from casual pub grub to steaks and seafood, both Kona and Maui brews to choose from, along with a few other larger crafts, we knew this would work out just fine. Well, in fact, it worked out well enough that we wandered back in again at the end of the week. While it's not necessarily a beer geek destination and the service hits the midrange acceptable mark, it will do the trick and give you something tasty to drink if you're at that end of the strip.

(Turtle Bay: A more scenic place to drink a beer? I think not likely)

Now with all of that miscellany out of the way, I can focus us all on our Sunday tour around the island. We started downtown and made our way out to Pearl Harbor, for the requisite, moving tour of the base. We then moved on up the island through the pineapple fields to the North Shore where we grabbed a shrimp plate from a food bus prior to landing at Turtle Bay for a couple of drinks. This is where I ran into my first of many Kona Longboard Lagers during this two-week trip to Hawaii.

(Kona Brewpub at night)

We carried on around the Windward side of the island during the sunset hours and finally made it to the Kona Brewpub, which is just a short bit to the east of downtown Honolulu in Koko Marina. It didn't take long for me to rank this brewery right up there amongst the most scenic...right there with Anderson Valley and the like. This is their second of two locations, the first being on the Big Island.

The service could not have been more accommodating at Kona. From the friendly 'aloha' at the front desk to our server who handled a full load of tables, but was not too busy to answer our questions about Kona's history, the food, and the beer, the staff and waterside dining set the stage for a completely enjoyable evening. If we weren't tired out from our island-circling driving tour as well as being jet-lagged, on top of needing to get to work the following day, we certainly would have stayed for at least 1 or 4 more!

But, given all of that, the sampler platters of beer were more along the lines of suitable for us. Then, pick a favorite, get a pint of it and call it a night we did. Between the three of us, we only duplicated a couple of the beers and were able to sample just about the full lineup of beers.

(Kona Brewpub sampler, a bit expensive at $9 for 20 total ounces, but hey it's Hawaii)

If I have my facts correct, the packaged beers (bottles and cans) that you can get from Kona are produced on the mainland under their agreement in the Craft Brewers Alliance. I believe that goes for kegs of the same brands too...but that's a fact that I need to check. The specialties, though, are produced on site and on the Big Island of Hawaii but do not get packaged in any form, including (unfortunately) growlers, to go. The consensus at our table enjoyed the Black Sand Porter, the Lavaman Red, and the Hefeweizen. Their version of a coconut porter, though, was not up to the standard, we all agreed, set by Maui Brewing.

We caught a little of the live music that had begun while we were polishing off nachos, fish tacos, and salads. As I'd mentioned earlier, the location, the live music, decent beer and food, and attentive staff all combine to make this one of the most well-rounded brewpub experiences I think could be enjoyed. Everyone brings a little something different to the table. At Kona, they've got a little bit of everything which, in the end, contributes to a greater whole.

(Kona Brewpub on the water at night)

(the Yard House in amongst the downtown Honolulu shopping scene)

I was gonna break for part 2 right about now, then I realized I missed telling you about my first visit ever to a Yard House. There are enough of them around the country and you'd figure for the amount of travel that I do, that I would have run (or walked!) into one of these by now. Eh, nah, I'll put the pictures here and save the words for part 2. See you on the flip side where I'll finish up with Oahu and move on to Maui.

(how to move a lot of beer at Yard House)

(our table at Yard House ensured that we could keep an eye on the coldbox!)

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