Since our trip to Hawaii right at 3 years ago, one of the things that caught my fancy while we were there were beers from the Kona Brewing Company from Kona on the Big Island. Our first lunch we had while we were in Hawaii was at the Kona Brewing Company. (Click here to see that entry.) Not only was the food pretty good, but the beer was excellent. And while they were out of it at the brewery that day, I especially fell in love with Kona's Big Wave Golden Ale, a refreshing light-bodied golden/blonde ale with a slight honey/tropical fruit front taste with a roasted malt and slightly hoppy aftertaste that was wonderful on a warm Hawaiian afternoon. Before our flight back to the mainland, I had my last three Kona Big Wave Golden Ale's at the Kona airport bar. I thought about smuggling one in my luggage, but I knew it would explode when we got to altitude with sub-freezing temperatures. I think I had a slight tear in my eye when I finished the last taste of the Kona Big Wave Golden Ale. It was one of the things I missed most about Hawaii.
The Kona Brewing Company has been brewing their "Liquid Aloha" since 1994 when father-son partners Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa came up with their first beer - Pacific Golden Ale, which eventually became Big Wave Golden Ale. The Fire Rock Pale Ale followed shortly after. The two brewed and bottled the beers at a small facility in Kona. As business grew, they opened their first brew pub in Kona in 1998. Not long after, Mattson Davis came on board to be the president of the company. In 2008, Kona Brewing Co. was purchased by the Craft Brewers Alliance, a company that was formed when the Widmer Brothers brewery and the Redhook brewery merged that same year.
Since 2001, Kona had contracted with Widmer Brothers to brew and distribute their beers on the West coast. The recipes were given to Widmer Brothers by the Kona brewmaster, and the mineral content in the water from Hawaii was tested and the mineral content in the water at the Widmer Brothers brewery was mirrored to match the water from Hawaii. Samples of each batch of Kona beer brewed at Widmer Brothers was sent back to Kona's brewmaster for his stamp of approval.
With the acquisition of Kona by the Craft Brewers Alliance in 2008, it opened up more markets as Redhook had breweries in Washington state and New Hampshire. Intially, it was made available in about 25 states. For awhile, Anheuser-Busch distributed the beer in states along the Eastern seaboard and West coast. That distribution agreement ended a couple three years ago, but it was still available in 30 states from Maine to Florida, and out west from the Pacific Ocean to the Rockies. On a trip to Atlanta a couple three years ago, I found the Longboard lager, the Fire Rock pale ale, and the Pipeline Porter beers in a liquor store. Although I did like the Longboard lager and the Fire Rock pale, I was still pining for the Big Wave Golden Ale. But it wasn't available on the mainland.
I even went so far to look into how much it may cost to ship a case of the Big Wave Golden Ale from a liquor store in Hawaii who said they could ship me a case. But it was around $135 for the case of beer and shipping. I loved the stuff that much to consider the purchase for a little bit. But I came to my senses and decided that it was my goal to get back out to Hawaii at some point, not only to enjoy the islands, but to have another Big Wave Golden Ale.
Late last summer, my neighbor, Greg, who is a big beer enthusiast, came over one afternoon and we were talking over a couple beers in my garage. Somehow the conversation shifted to Kona Brewing Company beers, specifically the Big Wave Golden Ale. Greg said, "Oh, hey! I saw a news release on line saying that Big Wave is coming to the states."
I about dropped my beer. Sure enough, after Greg left I found a press release on-line that announced the arrival of the Big Wave Golden Ale. It said that it would be available in bottles in all 30 states where Kona is distributed.
For me, that meant the closest place I could get Kona Beers would be Tennessee. Well, Tennessee isn't in my territory, but I would be in Bowling Green, KY late in 2012. Bowling Green is just miles from the Tennessee border and Nashville is 50 miles away. I figured that I could go swing down to Nashville for a couple hours while I would be in Bowling Green and get some Big Wave Golden Ale.
The only problem - no one had it in Nashville as of yet. They only had the Longboard, Fire Rock and Pipeline Porter. I still picked up a case each of the Longboard lager and the Fire Rock pale. Or, so I thought. The next morning I discovered that the guy who helped me take the beer to the car had mistakenly grabbed a case of the Longboard lager. I had also taken a case of Longboard lager to the car. I didn't recognize the mistake until I put my bag in my car at the hotel in Indianapolis. Oh well. I figured I'd somehow make it back down to Tennessee at some point later in 2013.
With the Consumer Electronics Show coming up in Las Vegas in early January, I knew that I'd be able to find more Kona beers when I went out there. In fact, I did some on-line reconnaissance and saw that Total Wine and More had the beer in Las Vegas. During the beer run that my colleague, Ian, and I did for our suite at the Venetian, I picked up a case of the Big Wave Golden Ale. When we got back to the hotel, I immediately put some on ice. Later that evening, we had a meeting in the suite with Jean-Philippe from Focal, I went in to where the beer was stashed and pulled out a Big Wave Golden Ale. I almost had tears of joy in my eyes when I took my first drink. It was the same subtle tropical fruit taste that flowed across the tongue and ended with a satisfying aftertaste that reminded me of sitting on the beach at the hotels in Hawaii. I was in heaven.
I have a dealer in St. Louis who goes to Hawaii for vacation with his wife quite a bit. When I got back from Hawaii three years ago, I was telling him about the Big Wave Golden Ale and he said, "Oh, man, yeah! That is great beer! It is so smooth and refreshing. It's unbelievable." He would tease me on his subsequent visits to Hawaii with camera-phone shots of six packs of Big Wave Golden Ale sitting in store coolers. The bastard!
At CES, I had a meeting scheduled with the two guys from my dealer in St. Louis and I purposely scheduled it later in the day so we could go to the suite and enjoy a Big Wave Golden Ale or two. I hid a six pack so I could make sure that we had enough for our meeting and had put it on ice about two hours earlier. When we got to the suite, I brought out three beers for us. One of the guys had never been to Hawaii and had never tasted the Big Wave previously. He was floored by the taste. "Now I know why you guys go nuts over this beer," he said. "You're right, it's light and very refreshing. It definitely has more of a taste than most American lagers or ales."
We were talking about somehow getting the Big Wave back to Iowa and Missouri. They talked about making the four hour drive down from St. Louis to Memphis to pick some up at some point. I even discussed driving out to Denver for the CEDIA Expo this coming September so I could bring two or three cases back with me. (I'm telling you - I REALLY LIKE THIS BEER!) Then I realized - a friend of mine who is a former dealer but now works as the director of the AudioVisual Center at Grinnell College was out at CES and we got together for a meeting the day before. He always drives out to Las Vegas from Iowa for CES and he has a van. Shit! I could have had him take three or four cases back to Iowa for me! I called to see if he was still in Las Vegas, but it turned out that he was 200 miles up the road nearing Salt Lake City. When I told him that I wanted to send some beer back to Iowa, he said, "Yeah, I could have done that!" Well, maybe next year...
Two weeks later back in Iowa, it was a pleasant January Saturday afternoon when I got a text message from my dealer in St. Louis. It was a picture of a six pack of Big Wave Golden Ale. I texted him back and asked, "Where is this?"
He texted back, "Here at (his audio) store."
I immediately called him and asked him how he was able to get a sixer of Big Wave in St. Louis. He said, "A friend of mine knows I love the Big Wave Golden Ale and she saw it over at Friar Tuck's near my house. She bought the last two sixers they had and brought it over here."
I exclaimed, "It's available in St. Louis?"
He replied, "As far as I know, I'm guessing yes. Let me make some phone calls."
He called around to some of the liquor stores he goes to in the area and they all confirmed that Kona beers were now available in the St. Louis area. He called me back and said, "Yep! We got 'em here!"
I was scheduled to be in Chicago the following week and up to Minneapolis the next. I was trying to figure out how I could get to St. Louis as quick as my schedule allowed to pick up some of the Big Wave Golden Ale. But I knew it would probably be more than month before I could make it down there.
Later in the day, I went on my computer and did a search for Kona Big Wave and Missouri. To my astonishment I found a press release from Kona Brewery dated in early December 2012 -
"(Kailua-Kona, HI) – Kona Brewing Company has announced it will begin distributing its portfolio of craft beers to five additional markets in the Midwest throughout January and February of 2013. The five new states where Liquid Aloha will now be available on tap and on the shelves are: Illinois, Indiana, Minnesota, Missouri, and Ohio. With the expanded distribution, Kona beers will now be available in 35 states.
"In addition to bars and restaurants with craft beer offerings throughout the Midwest, consumers will be able to find Kona’s Liquid Aloha in specialty beer shops, liquor stores and regional grocery store chains. Kona Brewing’s flagship Longboard Island Lager will be available in bottles and on draught year-round. In addition to Kona’s other year-round offerings, Big Wave Golden Ale and Fire Rock Pale Ale and Kona’s full seasonal line up of Aloha Series beers will also be available beginning with the spring seasonal in the series, Koko Brown Ale."
I about shot out of my chair. I'm going to be in Chicago next week! I'm going to be able to get Kona Big Wave Golden Ale and bring it home! I was so excited that I gave out an exaggerated, "Oh my God!" My wife, who was in the next room, asked what I was so excited about. I told her that Big Wave Golden Ale was now available in Illinois.
She shook her head and said, "Oh, that will be trouble..." She's not to enamored with the beer fridge in the garage.
The following Tuesday, I had a meeting in the Western suburbs of Chicago, but I stopped off at Binny's in Downers Grove to see if they did, indeed, have the beer. Looking around the floor, I came across this glorious sight. A small mountain of Kona's Big Wave Golden Ale, Firerock pale, Longboard lager, the Pipeline porter, and a seasonal beer my dealer in St. Louis was raving about to me when he got back from Hawaii in the fall of last year, the Koko Brown Nut Ale. It has a hint of smoked coconut and toffee in the taste. I'm not too fond of coconut, but he assured me that it wasn't overpowering in the taste. "The combination of the flavors makes it really appealing," he told me. "I think I like it better than the Big Wave." (Note - Not me!)
I ended up buying two sixers of the Big Wave Golden Ale to take back to the hotel and enjoy later that evening. It was a real treat to open a bottle of the Big Wave and enjoy it when I got back. The first three I had that evening went down so smooth, it was almost like drinking flavored water. My wife may be right - it could be trouble.
Before I left Chicago the following Friday, I stopped at Binny's to pick up a couple cases of Big Wave Golden Ale, a case of the Firerock pale ale, and I decided to get a sixer of the Koko Brown. (I still had a case of the Longboard lager at home, so I didn't need that.) I had stopped into one of my favorite beer places, Sal's Beverage World in Addison, and while they did have the Big Wave, Longboard and Koko Brown beers, they didn't have them in cases. Binny's knocks off two bucks for buying the Kona beers in cases.
I did try the Koko Brown after I got home later that day. I can see where my dealer in St. Louis likes it. It had a nice smoked coconut taste on the tongue, but it wasn't overpowering like I find regular coconut. (I do like the smell of coconut, but the taste bothers me.) And it had a smooth finish with a hint of a toffee taste. While it wouldn't be something that I'd like to sit and drink on a regular basis, I thought it was a fine seasonal beer.
One other little thing that I found out while drinking a Kona Big Wave Golden Ale recently - I popped the top off a bottle (they're not screw top bottles - you need an opener) and set it down on the counter. I looked down at the back of the bottle cap and there was some writing inside. My eyes aren't what they used to be, but I was able to make out the word "Malama" and below it "to care". The next beer I opened up, I looked at the back of the bottle cap and it said "Hulo", then underneath that it said, "Hooray". It turns out they put Hawaiian words and phrases on the bottle caps of Kona beers. Some Internet research told me that they have over 50 different Hawaiian words on Kona beer bottle caps. Now I have to start collecting the bottle caps.
I don't know, call it the "Liquid Aloha" mystique or whatever, but I really like the Kona beers. Maybe a lot of it has to do with how great our trip was to Hawaii and each sip of a Kona beer reminds me of the islands. Now that the Kona beers are available close to home, I'll be able to sit on my deck when the weather gets warmer, bring a bottle of Big Wave Golden Ale to my lips, shut my eyes and conjure up an image of the Pacific sunset. It won't be the same when I open my eyes, but the Kona beer will make Hawaii seem just a little more close to home.