Written by Tom Becham for PGA
I confess my impressions of Kauai Island Brewing were somewhat confusing, however.
Keep in mind I will make every effort to be fair here.
I had visited KIB once before when it was still called Waimea Brewing some years ago. I left unimpressed. Admittedly, I was still a newbie to craft beer at that time. Plus, where beer is concerned, I will always give it a second, or even third, chance.
The brewpub is an airy place, mere feet from a municipal fishing boat dock, so the result is the rare brewpub that specializes in fresh fish dishes. And to give you an idea of how good the food is, when I visited, two locals were sitting behind my table having lunch. One was drinking Heineken, the other Coors Light. Yes, the food is so good that even industrial beer drinkers will come in for a meal.
The beer is kind of a mixed bag, however.
I’m not saying the beer was bad, by any means. It just seemed monotonous and without variety. Admittedly, they were out of their award-winning brown ale, and their lilikoi (passion fruit) ale. But every single other beer on their list (8 of them) were hop bombs except for the Pakala Porter. I can appreciate a hoppy beer. But I like variety, as do most beer geeks. And newbies will be absolutely turned off by this line-up.
Individually, here are my impressions:
Leilani Light – A very flavorful light bodied golden ale. Too hoppy for the style, though, and the light malt can’t really support the hop levels.
Wai’ale’ale Ale – A nice gold ale. Piney aromas, but more hops in aroma than taste. A dry, honey-ish flavor.
Na Pali Pale – At first, this had some odd, off flavors, slightly medicinal and nasty. Improved considerably on warming (which doesn’t take long in Hawaii), with a juicy, tropical edge to the hops.
Captain Cook’s IPA – Classic American IPA. Citrusy hop, but less perceptible here than in the pale and gold ales. Very nice.
Pakala Porter – Earthy, roasty coffee flavor, not much aroma. Dead-on for the style, one of the better porters I’ve had.
Cane Fire Red – Typical of hoppy American ambers. Warms nicely and backs its IBUs with a good malt backbone.
Westside Wheat – Good warm weather thirst quencher. But I just don’t get the idea of hoppy wheat beers. For me, they simply don’t work. 23 IBUs for a wheat? Sorry, me no gusta.
Blonde Lager – Okay, I must commend the KIB brewer for this one. It is his first attempt at a lager, so even more impressive. On par with certain Czech lagers I’ve had. May bring in the Bud/Miller/Coors drinkers if it’s made part of the regular selection, though it may be too bitter for many.
My only issue with Kauai Island Brewing is that they seem to be a one trick pony, and are attempting to be the Stone Brewing of the Central Pacific. Their couple of attempts at maltier flavors are good, and they should go with a few more of those. The brewer is certainly more than skilled enough to pull it off.
The problem, as I see it, is that the co-owner/brewer has been running this place as his personal kingdom for 13 years. After lunch I encountered an employee there who stated he was learning from the brewer because “he has no back-up”. Okay, that’s not good. This gentleman then proceeded to display far less knowledge about the brewing procedure than I have, which is also not good. Basically, no one in the place has brewing knowledge EXCEPT the brewer. And according to his erstwhile apprentice, “he’s been making all the same beers exactly the same way for 13 years.” VERY not good!
Bottom line, I think Kauai Island Brewing’s brewer has been surrounded by yes men and people ignorant of beer for so long that he’s stopped evolving In his art. And that’s a shame. He has immense talent.
Tom Becham lives in Oxnard, CA. He’s been writing for PGA for many years now. We really should pay him but we’re poor here at PGA. Tom’s a great writer and contributor to PGA. He loves good beer, and has a great palate. Notice how much we’re sucking up to him? Maybe he should pay US?