Ale-loha!: We welcome two new gastropubs and a brew pub to Honolulu.
By Martha Cheng | Photography by Rae Huo
Pouring grain into the mill and stirring the brewing vat.
Craft beer is hot right now. In just one month, three places featuring craft brews opened—one brewpub and two gastropubs. What gives? People crowd outside Real a Gastropub, angling to get in and drink beers they’ve never heard of. One night, at Pint and Jigger, they were literally paying a man to stand outside and discourage people from entering: “It’s standing room only.” He is happy to be outside and seems not to understand why you would want to go inside, in the crush of people eating eggs wrapped in pork. These two gastropubs are popular, even beyond the usual Honolulu rush. They are unlike any bars we’ve seen in Honolulu, and they have a common, niche interest in beer. Getting to the bottom of this phenomenon (and perhaps several pints along the way) seemed like the right thing to do.
Aloha Beer brewmaster Dave Campbell smells and tastes the beer.
Aloha Beer thinks it can build an empire on beer.
“[Craft beer] is no longer the niche that it was, ” says Dave Campbell, the brewmaster of Aloha Beer. “It is the growth category. Domestic beer sales are flat, whereas craft beer is consistently double-digit growth year in and year out. It still accounts for a small percentage of all the beer, but it’s a growing segment.”
Not that that’s why Campbell first started brewing. He got his first homebrew kit when he was 18, seven years after homebrewing was legalized in 1978. As often happens when underage boys discover beer, the results were intoxicating. After graduating from Punahou, he attended college in Oregon, where a generation of homebrewers was starting microbreweries. Campbell drank it all in, and when he returned to Hawaii, he ditched a law school track to start a homebrew shop, Oahu Homebrew Supply. He ran a small, attached brewery, churning out 15 gallons at a time, while consulting for Kona Brewing and now-closed Alii Brewing.
Campbell calls himself the old guy in the brewing scene: He’s seen breweries come and go (mostly going in the ’90s and returning now). When Sam Choy opened Breakfast, Lunch and Crab, Choy knew he wanted a brewery in it and asked Campbell to run it. In ’97, Big Aloha Brewery was born.
The same year Campbell started his homebrew shop, Aloha Beer partner Steve Sombrero was writing a paper for his MBA. He had recently moved to Hawaii and didn’t know much about the Islands. He scoped out Waikiki and watched tourists order beer; they were handed Budweisers. “I know from my travels, if you go to any country, there’s a distinct beer that represents that country, ” Sombrero says. “In the Phillipines, you get San Miguel. Thailand, Singha. Korea, OB. Taiwan, Taiwan Beer. Hawaii should have a beer that’s representative.” Hence, Aloha Beer. He registered the name, though he knew nothing about brewing.