If Can, Can

With a host of national awards and a name everybody’s getting to know, this local brewpub has plenty to cheer about.

2080

Sara Smith

beer“I’ll take a Blonde.”

“Think I’ll go with a Big Swell, thanks.”

(No beach-bum gibberish here—we’re talking important stuff: lagers and IPAs. When one dines with a beer maker, one drinks beer.)

I glance at my lunch partner. He’s calculating something. In a flash I’m receiving a chronicle of my beer’s life. It’s a short story: brewed, canned, delivered . . . I just cracked a brewski that’s a whoppin’ three-days old.

“Fresh. That’s the power behind a truly local product,” he says, eyes twinkling with the excitement of a proud parent.

Meet Garrett Marrero, the man behind Maui Brewing Co. and my new favorite person on the whole island. (Okay, that may be the beer talking.) There’s a woman behind Maui Brewing Co., too, Garrett’s wife, Melanie. Not long ago, Garrett, a former investment consultant, and Melanie, a former financial analyst, decided to tap into a new adventure. They left California and their corporate personas, bought a little-known West Side brewpub in 2005, and cooked up a business plan that read something like this: Have fun; brew kick-ass local craft beer; have fun; leave as small an environmental footprint as possible; have fun—and take the dog to the beach every day at sunset.

Three years later, their success is phenomenal, as measured in national recognition, a second brewery, statewide distribution, production growth topping 600 percent, and feverish demand from consumers, retailers, and, of all things, chefs.

“At one point we were looking at a body shop,” Garrett chuckles, reflecting on the business opportunities that surfaced during their initial search. Luckily, they picked another: a seven-barrel brewpub and restaurant in Kahana, an established outfit desperate for new life. Admittedly, beer making was not a calling; still, the proposition drew their interest. “Beer is just fun. We came from a world of suits and dress codes . . . beer is the opposite of that world.”

Fun? Meet this muscular, self-proclaimed techie and Jack-of-all-trades, prone to spontaneous recitals of complex industry statistics, and you get the feeling that he could have launched the beer business and the body shop. Case in point: he gave me a tour of his entire brewing operation, grain to finished product in, oh, about two breaths and 4.3 seconds. Pen on fire, I actually worked up a sweat trying to keep up with him. Later, when I did a double take at his mention that he processes the restaurant’s used cooking oil into biodiesel for his cars and delivery trucks, this irrepressible do-it-yourselfer cocked his head and looked at me as if to say, “Duh. What else would we use?”

Brewmaster Tom Kerns stayed on when the Marreros purchased the business. With his help, Garrett cut his teeth in the art of craft beers. In 2007, the Marreros opened a separate brewing and canning facility in Lahaina. Maui Brewing Co. went to market with three of its most popular beers: Bikini Blonde Lager, Big Swell IPA, and CoCoNut PorTeR.

For the sake of their marriage, Melanie and Garrett adopted wisdom derived from bathroom-towel divination: his and hers. “We never fought till we started managing the restaurant together,” Garrett says. The solution? “She runs the restaurant and I run brewery. Now everything runs a lot smoother.

2005. 2006. 2007. The awards keep rolling in: golds, silvers and bronzes in an array of categories from the Great American Beer Festival, North American Brewers’ Association, and the World Beer Cup. Suddenly Maui beer is on the map.

In competition with established craft brewers and national brands, the Marreros were winning the favor of the judges and their peers. Throughout last year’s major contests, Maui Brewing toggled top honors with microbrew-mammoth Sam Adams in the doppelbock category. Maui Brewing’s Red Cock Doppel Bock earned one gold and two silvers—and a hefty compliment from Jim Koch, founder and brewmaster of Sam Adams’ Boston brewery. During a press conference, Koch shared his limelight with the little island brewery. “He pointed me out and said ‘Garrett’s beer will hold its own against any beer here,’” the Maui brewer recalls, still slightly in awe. “I remember drinking Sam Adams in college, and here I was getting props from Jim Koch!”

Garrett’s sense of humor has retained that collegiate flavor—judging by the names of the company’s various brews. About that award-winning doppelbock: “We still giggle every time they announce it over the loudspeaker. We just get a kick out of making the judges say ‘Red Cock Doppel Bock.’”The national recognition was a bonus to what the Marreros were achieving here at home.

Having set out to make a truly local beer, the couple increasingly found new and better ways of lacing fingers with Maui resources. They partnered with local agriculture for specialty ingredients like Maui Gold pineapple, Maui Brand natural cane sugar, and organic ‘ohia lehua honey from Hawai‘i Island—all key ingredients in their Maui Gold Summer Ale, a silver-medal winner at the 2007 Great American Beer Festival. Their spent grain becomes feed for chickens at Kapalua Farms, and Maui Cattle Company’s livestock—whose meat the Marrerros are proud to serve at their restaurant.

They’ve even found like-minded local businesses to bounce zany ideas around with:

“Hey Bruddah Kimo’s Rum, how ‘bout loaning us one of the oak barrels your rum is aged in, so we can age our porter in it? We’ll call it the Black Pearl.”

“Sure, Maui Brewing!”

“Hey, Island Soap & Candle Company, let’s make beer soap!”

“Okay!”

What makes Maui Brewing’s beers truly local? Hawai‘i certainly has no shortage of microbreweries, but when it comes to buying those local craft beers at the grocery store, it turns out most are actually made on the mainland and shipped in. Only two companies in the state locally brew the beer they distribute: Maui Brewing and Mehana in Hilo. All others—such as Kona Brewing Company, which contracted with Portland giant Widmer Brothers Brewing—seek the favorable bottom line that comes with corporate partnerships and off-island production.

“It costs 50 percent more for me to brew here,” Garrett explains, looking at the piled bags of hops and barley that are among the few ingredients he has to ship in. Undeterred, he feels there is no replacing the act of putting down roots in your community by supporting other local businesses, workers and farmers; it all adds to the authenticity that comes with brewing locally.

The freshness can’t be beat. You’ve heard of farm to table? This is the same philosophy. When you significantly cut the time the beer sits on the shelf, you get the flavor profile the brewer intended. Over lunch at Mala Ocean Tavern, where Garrett calculated my IPA as a mere three days old, I immediately get it. Before the first sip, the beer’s vibrant floral notes greet me. “The IPA nose comes from being dry hopped. Every batch is steeped with nineteen pounds of hops in cheesecloth bags for a week to ten days,” he says. “The process allows the oils from the hops to infuse into the beer. It adds aroma.” It’s an expensive quality-control measure; I nearly choke when he tells me that the cost of hops increased fourfold last year alone. I hereby vow to really enjoy this beer.

“Tom is a very skilled brewer,” Garrett continues. “We focus on our beer being a journey, not something you chug. There’s a beginning—that first sip—a definite middle, and the finish. We’re known for having a good clean finish; it begs you to come back for more.” Yes. Where is that waiter anyway?

How to recognize a Maui Brewing Co. beer? First of all, it’s in a can. Not what most card-carrying members of the microbrew-boom generation expect to wrap their lips around when ordering a craft beer. In fact, microcanning, as its dubbed, is a recent return to an old technology that’s got some in the industry kicking the bottle for good. Get beyond its blue-collar stereotype, and it turns out the humble can offers more benefits than one might imagine. Cans preserve taste by protecting the beer inside from UV light damage (which results in a “skunky” flavor) and oxidation (which causes unsavory staleness). And every can is lined with a thin water-based polymer to eliminate any chance of a metallic taste, so there goes that myth.

The can excels environmentally, too. Garrett enthusiastically rattles off a laundry list of reasons the can is a greener choice. An aluminum can is easily and quickly recycled. In fact, within eight weeks of consumption, it can be recycled and back on the shelf. Cans save energy in transport and refrigeration because they are lighter than glass, chill quicker, and stack more efficiently. And in keeping with the Maui Brewing mission, the cans are local, too, manufactured on O‘ahu. Call it packaging nirvana.

While microcanning brewers, Garrett among them, vigilantly defend their decision to bypass the bottle, he does offer this distinction, “I stand by my decision to can 100 percent. It’s the best way to package and ship the beer, but not necessarily the best way to drink it. I definitely suggest pouring it into a glass.”

Isle restaurateurs were quick to back the quality and craftsmanship of Maui Brewing’s products. Now many local fine-dining establishments serve these brews with the same tableside pomp they would a fine vintage wine. Order a CoCoNut PorTeR at Lahaina Grill, for instance, and it’s likely the waiter may discuss its flavor profile as he pours the thick, dark brew into a specialty glass for you.

The beer is so tasty, it’s crossed the culinary divide from bar to kitchen. Hali‘imaile General Store developed a dessert special, serving CoCoNut PorTeR with a float of haupia (coconut) ice cream. Chef James McDonald uses the rich brew to braise short ribs at Pacific’O. Fat Daddy’s, a new barbeque joint in Kihei, also uses the porter in its marinade.

Garrett’s eyes dance when he divulges the new beer ideas he’s been flirting with. Always looking to locally available flavors, he confides that lavender-lychee is one he’s considering. Another in the works is a surprise for his mom, who’ll be visiting to celebrate a big birthday this April (ends in a zero is all I’m gonna say). To help relieve the sting of a new decade, and because it sounds so darn yummy, Garrett’s planning a mango mead. It’ll be available as a seasonal this spring at the brewpub. I suggest stopping by for a pint—even if it’s not your birthday.

The company kick-started 2008 by adding two new 100-barrel tanks in early January, which more than doubled Maui Brewing’s capacity. In 2007, they brewed approximately 2,000 barrels, or about 30,000 cases. This year their goal is precisely 4,961 barrels. It’s a good thing—the kegs they special-ordered from England back in October are on their way. Very soon bars, pubs and restaurants across the island will be pouring Maui Brewing Co. on draught.

Topping the year off, quite literally, are photovoltaic systems that will be installed at both their locations this summer. Garrett estimates that they’ll harness enough solar power from the brewery’s roof to meet 100 percent of the building’s electrical needs. Solar water panels will heat the water, reducing gas consumption. The photovoltaics atop the restaurant’s roof will generate about 25 percent of its power. These systems carry a hefty price tag, but Garrett concludes, “You should do as much as you can for the environment. It’s so simple to be green these days. It takes no time, saves money—it’s a win-win. The costs always average out.”

So wait . . . that means I can drink a beer that’s made on Maui, using solar-powered energy, and delivered via recycled cooking oil fuel. And the beer is damn good? I told you these were my new favorite people.

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