Selling Craft Beer in Paradise

Eno Sarris, February 25, 2016

The first thing that strikes you about Kona Wine Market in Kona on the Big Island is the view. 

There is sunset, between three bottles of wine. Even the bottle shops in Hawaii have lookouts that can make you stop for a second.

Then, as you take a look around the beer cave, you notice beers that you can't find at home. Even if you live on the west coast, you will either have seen the Belching Beaver or the Breakside, but not usually both. You might see Cambridge Brewing Company all the time, but what are these 8 Wireds from New Zealand all about. 

"We're pretty much always trying to get our distributors to send us more of anything and everything," says owner Sterling Leatherman. Anything that's good that he can get goes into the cave. He's had to advocate to even get the selection that Oahu beer retailers get. 

So that means an eclectic mix no matter where you're from. 

On top of that, Hawaii is seen as an interesting way to test the waters for small breweries. That's what Belching Beaver is doing, for the most part. It's just Southern California... and Hawaii. Lagunitas, distribution king, has been here for three months.

The locals -- Kona Brewing, Lanikai Brewing, Big Island Brewhaus, Maui Brewing, Hawai'i Nui -- are all there, of course. Fresh and delicious. But the 'imports' are all diverse. 

Another thing you'll notice is a growler fill station with two taps. Many mainland 'taps and caps' spots have turned into full-fledged bars with fridges from these beginnings, but that might not be likely here. For one, he'd have to get a different permit to sell full pours.

But also, supply makes it hard to find a competitive edge. "If there was a keg of something really nice available on the island, most of us would get a shot at it," Leatherman admits. Because of the market for kegs, most spots will see the same keg list. The exception might be Big Island, which is literally down the road.

But that doesn't mean the pecularities of the island are done affecting the growler fill station. Because the law allowing growler fill stations also explicitly allowed a non-glass option at the station. Hydro Flasks

If you're headed to the beach or on a hike, I can't imagine there's an option you'd like better than these guys. They insulate temperature well and keep the beer pressurized until you get to the destination, without any of the risk (or legal implications) of bringing along glass. 

So, yeah, maybe Kona Wine Market will have more taps, if everyone sees that same fit of form and function when it comes to the Hydro Flasks and their daily activity. Or maybe the beer cave will fill to bursting. In any case, it's the best little beer store in Kona, and it represents itself -- and all the pecularities of Hawaii craft beer -- very well.