With the majority of the craft beer boom attributed to the lower 48, it’s interesting to note that Kona Brewing Co., founded on Hawaii’s Big Island in 1994, is one of the most successful breweries in the United States. As a Hawaii-born business with a Big Beer parent (no, not that one — although Anheuser-Busch does own a stake), Kona is often met with misconceptions.
Independent or not, Kona is using its hard-earned dough in some cool ways. It’s also producing a bunch of beers you’re likely to see out there on the shelves of your local, so we did our due diligence to round up some things you should know.
Aloha! Kona is Hawaiian … sort of.
Kona Brewing Co. was founded in 1994 by father-son duo Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa (yes, Spoon). The brewery is headquartered on Hawaii’s Big Island in Kailua-Kona, its beer names and recipes are Hawaii-inspired, and “aloha” is an unofficial ingredient in every batch.
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That said, Kona was bought in 2010 by Craft Brew Alliance, a company that owns several breweries and is backed by Anheuser-Busch. As such, much of its production is in Portland, Oregon, Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and Fort Collins, Colorado. So, while technically the brewery is based in Hawaii, the beer you see on shelves is not Hawaiian most of the time. Plus, the founders and lead brewer are totally white guys.
Kona is one of the nation’s only breweries that’s growing.
According to Craft Brewing Business, Kona’s big business decision has paid off, because it keeps growing. While brands from Budweiser to Boston Beer are seeing consistent sales shrinkage and the beer industry is witnessing a historic decrease in beer shipments, a report from Craft Brew Alliance noted that Kona outperformed in all segments of the beer market, showing double-digit shipment growth and the successful launch of a top-selling IPA.
Kona is big on Kōkua, especially saving the planet.
Kona has championed sustainable practices since before global warming was hot. (Too soon?) The company focused on minimizing its impact on the planet since day one, and it shows: The brewery is partially powered with solar energy, the water is recycled and used to hydrate on-site gardens, and spent grains are used to make pizzas at the brewpub.
“As one of Hawaii’s longest-running breweries, we believe it is our responsibility to take the lead in finding innovative ways to brew our beers with as little impact to our natural resources as possible while giving back to the community,” Julia Person, Kona corporate sustainability manager, says. “Investing in renewable energy is just one of the ways that Kona pledges to be stewards of our island home.”
Kona is fueled by the sun, in more ways than one.
Along with honoring nature in its day-to-day business and branding, Kona has a serious solar array at its current brewery, and plans to build another one at its upcoming location. The HQ houses a 990-panel, roof-mounted photovoltaic system, which generates over 10 megawatt hours of power a month, equal to about 50 percent of the brewery’s energy needs.
“As consumer demand for craft beer grows around the world, it is important that our industry take a leadership role in how we brew and distribute our beers,” Person says.
Kona is building a new, state-of-the-art brewery launching in 2019.
Kona will open its third location in Kailua-Kona next year, on a 2.6-acre site that will encompass a 30,000-square-foot space, a 100,000-barrel brewhouse, a canning operation, and, of course, as many solar panels as possible.
Originally estimated as a $15 million project, the brewery upped the ante to $20 million to incorporate designs for a higher level of renewable energy and conservation methods; for example, a resource recovery center that will clean water and create renewable power from methane. (Methane is a byproduct of water treatment.)
Kona’s new brewery will have its own canning line.
Sold in its widely available and recognizable bottles for decades, Kona will also can its beers at the new facility, so look out for more Kona in cans.
Kona brews 12+ different beers every year, and most are available nationwide.
A majority of Kona’s beers can be found in all 50 states. Popular brands include its year-round Longboard Island Lager, Big Wave Golden Ale, and Hanalei Island IPA.
Kona also makes beers you can only get in or near Hawaii.
A selection of “Hawaii-only” brews, including an IPA, a porter, a blonde ale, and a hefeweizen, are draft-only releases available on tap at Kona’s brewpubs, select locations in Hawaii, and in the southwest region of the mainland.
Kona has a 99-calorie beer called Kanaha.
Kanaha, Kona’s first blonde ale, is a sessionable blonde ale made with mango that the company celebrates for its lo-cal clock-in at just 99 calories. This beer was previously only available in Hawaii and California but went nationwide in 2018. It’s named after the Kanaha Beach winds.
Kona’s beers are all named for Hawaiian legends and landmarks.
Every Kona beer has a story. One beer, Wailua Wheat, is named after Wailua Falls, a 95-foot waterfall that flows into a bed of volcanic rock on the Road to Hana. The Road to Hana, or Hana Highway, is said to be the birthplace of the demigod Maui. Yes, this Maui, the very same played by the Rock in Disney’s “Moana.” That flick is worth a watch, by the way. Maybe with a Wailua Wheat in hand?