CRAFTING AN ISLAND: MAUI BREWING
On my recent travels I met with Garrett Marrero, founder of Maui Brewing to chat changes in industry, where it all started and of course brewing in paradise.
So where did the idea for Maui Brewing come from?
Maui Brewing was born from the simple idea of creating a truly authentic locally brewed Hawaiian craft beer. At the time when I was just visiting Hawaii the “local” beer was Kona, being brewed and bottled on the mainland. I felt cheated and being from San Diego and Davis I saw what was happening in craft at the time. To me it was a no-brainer, Hawaii needed a real local beer.
What large changes have you seen within the industry since you’ve been operating?
The industry today is hardly recognizable from when we first began. There were less than 1000 breweries in the country when we opened. We were the 10th craft brewer to put beer in cans, the first to brew with elements like coconut and pineapple. There is a lot more attention by the public on craft, well “craft”, now.
Itself as a term has been usurped by the big brewers making “crafty” beers and by all industries really. You now see “craft juice”, everything it seems is “handcrafted” whether or not it truly is. I still believe wholeheartedly in the vision of what Craft Beer is and who a craft brewer is but I believe that independence is a critical factor as is quality. Not to mention the amount of money that craft beer has attracted, not just strategics and private equity, but the small breweries opening up seem to have huge investment behind them building state of the art 7-25bbl Brewhouses and impressive facilities. That wasn’t the case 13 yrs ago. Back then most of us couldn’t get even get a loan and investors were pretty skeptical of us.
Where do you see “craft” or “independent” brewing moving to the next couple of years?
That’s a pretty short outlook. It really is anybody’s guess. I see the trend of new breweries opening at around today to continue, but I see the pace of brewery closings quickening. Independence will continue to become more important as the younger generation of brewers begin to learn that the rights they now have (tasting rooms, distribution, direct to consumer sales, etc) didn’t always exist and they’re under attack by big brewers and wholesalers. The old question of “why can’t we get along?” will get answered by the behavior of big brewers in the marketplace. The Brewers Association is our champion in the corner defending those rights. I think the newer brewers forget that sometimes. Craft beer drinkers too will continue to make conscious shifts to independent craft beer as they learn the truth behind “crafty Brands” and seek to support local, small businesses hell bent on making killer beer and positively impacting the community. Oh! And Black Gose will become the new IPA. I’m right on with at least a couple of the above.
Alcohol marketing is always changing and moving, how does Maui Brewing talk to it’s fans and bring them along on the journey?
We’re blessed to have built an amazing team. Between the brewery and restaurant arms were able to engage the public directly on many levels. It’s really awesome to see the craft beer drinker thirst for knowledge about the beer they’re drinking and the people / company behind it. We focus on social media (Instagram in particular) to tell our story. Whether that be food driven, a story about a particular teammate, a new beer, what’s happening in the brewery right now, sustainability, events etc.
Really we’ve created dialogues across our social channels, we we respond to questions. This can be anything from new markets, entertainment that is playing at our restaurants to the ingredients we use (i.e. GMO-free?). I believe it makes our followers feel empowered to know a little more about the brand and creates trust.
Though I’d be first to admit the pace you have to move to keep the attention of your fans and create new ones is speeding up and is a bit unrelenting at times.
Have you seen your audiences tastes change? What styles and flavors are you playing around with at the moment?
Daily! Used to be someone would fall in love with a beer and that was it, that beer was their jam and all they would drink. Nowadays they could taste a beer, think “omg this is the best beer I’ve ever had” then immediately order something different because it’s “new”. We’ve gone from three flagships on draft and package and a dozen or so draft only releases in a year, to five flagships and six or so limited releases (can and draft). We’re rotating large format bottle selections, and maybe sixty different draft only beers in a year.
In Hawaii specifically we’ve seen a huge shift from fizzy yellow lager to pales, IPA, sours and fruited beers. We continue to geek out on local ag, playing with a lot of kettle sour beers and lately a big push on huge stouts.
Lastly, I have to ask, what’s it like owning a brewery on a Hawaiian island?
It’s as amazing as it sounds. It’s hard to keep in mind sometimes on a difficult day that we make beer in Hawaii, but one look at the ocean and it’s all good. Maui truly is an amazing place. All that being said brewing in Hawaii is far more difficult than it sounds. One of, if not the most isolated group of islands in the world makes getting ingredients, labor, equipment, and etc extremely hard. Plus add to that the enormous expense to do so. But you gotta love it and not be in it purely for profit!
Maui Brewing continues to push what’s possible for today’s breweries as well as what can be achieved in the most remote of locations. In 2016 they won gold in Field Beer for their luscious Imperial Coconut Porter at the Great American Beer Festival (GABF) and show no signs of slowing down.
Currently in 2018 they distribute widely across America, though (in my honest opinion) nothing can beat drinking straight from the source. So if you’re looking for a remote tropical paradise serving fantastic beer, look no further.