The Beer Nut: Aloha, Kona Brewing

Norman Miller

If you want a little taste of Hawaii, you used to have to spend quite a few bucks to buy an airline ticket and travel several hours in a plane.

Now you can just go to your local liquor store and pick up a six-pack of beer from Kona Brewing Company.

Hawaii is a great place for beer, although its breweries don't have big reputations outside their own state, said Kona brewmaster Rich Tucciarone.

"The brewing scene in Hawaii is vibrant," said Tucciarone. "Hawaii boasts five craft breweries that put out about 20,000 barrels of beer each year (one barrel equals 31 gallons)."

Kona was founded in 1994 by the father-and-son team of Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa. Originally from Portland, Ore., the pair wanted to start a brewery and fell in love with Hawaii.

Kona brews dozens of beers for its two brewpubs, and a few are available outside the islands.

Two of their flagships beers are Fire Rock Pale Ale and Longboard Island Lager.

Tucciarone describes the Fire Rock as "a crisp, refreshing 'Hawaii-style' pale ale."

The Fire Rock uses several different styles of hops. Although not overly bitter, it is a solid beer. It's one of the easier drinking pale ales on the market today. The blend of Calena, Cascade and Mount Hood hops gives a pleasant citrus-floral aroma.

"This is a good beer for drinkers who like a little more hops," Tucciarone said.

Longboard Island Lager is Kona's most popular beer.

"We call it an island-style lager that is smooth and refreshing," said Tucciarone. "(It's) relatively low in alcohol - a good session beer. As a lager, it is fermented and aged for five weeks in cold temperatures to yield its exceptionally smooth flavor. A delicate, spicy hop aroma complements the malty body of this beer."

Longboard Island Lager will definitely be on my list of summer cookout beers. It's a smooth beer geared for the hot weather. It's not overly complex, but it is exceedingly refreshing and even easier to drink than the Fire Rock Pale Ale.

Also available are Pipeline Porter and Wailua Wheat Ale.

"Pipeline Porter is smooth and dark with a distinctive roast-y aroma and earthy complexity from its diverse blends of premium malted barley," said Tucciarone. "This celebration of malt unites with freshly roasted 100 percent Kona coffee grown at Cornwell Estate on Hawaii's Big Island -- just up the road from the brewery -- lending a unique roasted aroma and flavor."

And the wheat beer?

"This golden, sun-colored ale has a bright, citrusy flavor that comes from the tropical passion fruit we brew into each batch," said Tucciarone. "It is a fruit beer, but the fruit is not overpowering -- just the perfect amount of tang."

Kona tries to use as many local Hawaiian ingredients as it can because of how much it costs to brew beer there. Tucciarone said it costs about 35 percent more to brew beer because almost all of the ingredients need to be shipped there.

Luckily, those costs aren't passed onto the buyers here.

Kona has a contract with the Redhook Brewery in Portsmouth, N.H., to brew the beer for the East Coast. They have a similar deal with Widmer Brothers in Portland, Ore., for the West Coast.

Tucciarone said the brewing is overseen by Kona Brewing Company and they use all of Kona's hops, malt and proprietary yeast. Even the water mineral levels are monitored.

"Kona Brewing Company recognizes the importance of crafting its tasty ales and lagers close to their markets," he said. "This also enables Kona Brewing Company to lessen its carbon footprint, expending limited resources to deliver quality beer. It is the right thing to do for the discriminating beer drinker as well as for the environment."

Norman Miller is a MetroWest Daily News staff writer. For questions, comments, suggestions or recommendations, e-mail or call 508-626-3823. Check out The Beer Nut blog at