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Hawaii : The Islands of Aloha

On August 21st, 1959, the United States admitted Hawaii to the Union, growing to its present size of 50 states. And with that, we are wrapping up 50 weeks of drinking beer from each of the 50 states.

This week, we close out the project with two brews, a lager and an ale from a Hawaiian brewery, Kona Brewing Company.  One of the goals of this project was to see what beer from each state was available to me, here in New England. And if it wasn’t available, what steps were required to get my hands on beer from the state.

As has been chronicled here, some states required more work than others, and as we discovered over the course of the year, there are still some prohibition era distribution laws in place that prevent wide spread distribution for many brewers. The store in Georgia that can see the Tennessee border from their front window, but can not bring Tennessee beer across the state line springs to mind.

But these laws are not the only issues limiting access to beer. There is also supply and demand issues. Some breweries are small shops with a fervent local customer base. These breweries do not have to bother with getting wide spread distribution. They can focus on making a fresh product that is often picked up right at the brewery. An other issue is distribution costs. It is not cheap to move a product across the country. And that brings us to this weeks selection.

After much thought, I decided to use Kona as the final brewery in the project. Kona Brewery is located in Kailua-Kona and has been in operation for almost 20 years now and produces a nice line of beer. But what makes Kona different from every other beer consumed this year is that our beer was not actually brewed on the Big Island, or on any other Hawaiian island. If fact it was brewed right here in New England, 20 minutes from my house.

Our Kona beer is contract brewed. A quick search of the web will produce many articles (pro and con) about contract brewing. I would recommend starting here to learn more. Basically, contract brewing allows brewers to find a regional brewery that can produce, package and distribute their product, using the original recipe. For Kona, getting their product across the mainland is a daunting task without a system like contract brewing. By hiring a few regional breweries to make their product, they can reduce their costs while attaining a wider distribution market. My opinion is that this is a good thing.

Hawaii Craft Beer

Longboard Island Lager from Kona Brewing Company

The first beer we hand from Kona was the Longboard Island Lager. This beer had island all over it. From its light color and body, it was a beer that needed to be drank on a sunny beach, not in snowy New England. The first comment on this beer was that it tasted like Pilsner Urquell. Which was interesting, because this beer is a lager and not a pilsner. This brew did not have the big over the top flavors we came to expect over the course of the year. Instead, this was a fun, grab a six pack and hit the beach beer. Everyone enjoyed it.

Hawaii Craft Beer

Big Wave Golden Lager from Kona Brewing Company

The next beer we tried was actually the first beer brewed by Kona back in 1995. This Beer was a golden ale called Big Wave. Unlike the Longboard, this beer had more of a nose,  emitting a nice fruity smell. This beer was also slightly darker in the glass than the longboard. This was my favorite beer of the two, but I would not turn down either beer.

Would the beer have tasted different if it was brewed with Hawaiian water? Maybe. Could there have been something in the Hawaiian air that changed the flavor and characteristics of these beers? Do they lack Terroir? Possibly. These are debates that will rage on, but in the meantime, grab yourself a Kona and enjoy the day. To better locate Kona at your local hangouts, study their tap handles at this cool beer tap handle blog.

Thanks for joining this adventure. It is hard to believe 50 weeks have come and gone. Drinking a beer from each state over the course of 50 weeks was an interesting task, and I learned plenty. Over the course of the next 2-3 weeks, I am going to work on a summary post, so keep your eyes out for that, and have a happy New Year.

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