Oahu Brewpubs Serve Up
Welcoming Aloha Spirits

The islands of Hawaii are known around the world as a vacation paradise with beautiful beaches, challenging golf courses, scenic rain forests and volcanoes, and welcoming Hawaiian Aloha spirit. On the island of Oahu, home to the state capital of Honolulu and the tourist mecca of Waikiki, the Aloha spirit is enjoyed at countless eating and drinking establishments, ranging from fine dining spots to roadside carts serving the ubiquitous 'plate lunch' (more on that later). Some of the best places to capture the Aloha spirit are at Oahu's three brewpubs, which all serve up fine craft brewed beers and great food in friendly surroundings.

Bernie at Da Brewery at Sam Choy's
Sam Choy's brewpub in the industrial section of downtown Honolulu has the most inventive beers and pub food in Oahu along with a fun laid-back atmosphere. The full name of the brewpub -- Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch & Crab and Big Aloha Brewery -- gives some idea of the wide range of offerings. Sam Choy, a celebrity Hawaiian chef with a string of island restaurants and a TV show, opened his brewery restaurant in May 1997 with noted local brewer Dave Campbell taking charge of the brewhouse. The menu includes Breakfast sunrise specials ($2.99) from 6:30 to 7:30 am including Sam's three egg beef stew omelet and Sam's fried rice with two eggs. Lunch and dinner menus always feature the house specialty, fresh crab done many ways including steamed King Crablegs, garlic dungeness crab and soft shell crabs in season.

Sam Choy's has worked hard to build a vibrant beer community in Honolulu with an active Mug Club and regular brewmaster's dinners on the 3rd Thursday of every month. I was fortunate to attend one of these dinners on a visit to Oahu in 2005 and enjoyed a sumptuous five course dinner with each course accompanied by a different beer (a great deal at just $39.99 including tax and tip). The dinner was held in a private room that comfortably held the 25 lucky beer lovers, which I was told was a little below the usual count of 35-40. Highlights from the menu created by Executive Chef Aurelio Garcia were a deliciously creamy clam chowder paired with Green Bottle Lager (a definite improvement over Heineken), Asian-style braised short ribs paired with a super hoppy IPA, and the blackened shrimp caesar salad paired with Kakaako Cream Ale. My favorite beer was Kiawe Honey Porter, a rich brew made with local honey, which was paired with the dessert course of banana lumpia.

Executive Chef Garcia being introduced at Sam Choy's
brewmaster dinner by Jim Bayley
Now for an explanation of the Hawaiian institution known as plate lunch. Plate lunch is at least one meat entree, but usually two or sometimes three, served with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad on the side. Plate lunches are cheap and portions are typically huge, filling the whole plate, hence the name. The variety of entrees you can get shows the blend of cuisine and culture found in Hawaii, with entrees like Chinese (chow fun), Japanese (Teri beef), Korean (bbq), Filipino (lumpia) and American dishes (chili, hamburger patty or hot dog), among others. A frequent component of the plate lunch are entrees made with spam, which became popular in Hawaii during wartime rationing and is now eaten in a variety of dishes including the popular spam musubi, like a sushi roll made with sushi rice and fried spam wrapped in a seaweed wrapper. Sam Choy's menu includes his take on plate lunch, which features delicious versions of Hawaiian dishes including Pork Laulau, Lomi Lomi salmon, Shoyu Poke and poi. If you're really hungry and looking for some great beer, Sam Choy's is easy to find, located just a block away from the famous Hilo Hattie's tourist shop, about halfway between the airport and Waikiki.

Sam Choy's Breakfast, Lunch & Crab &
Big Aloha Brewery

580 N. Nimitz Highway
(808) 545-7979

Outside the Koko Marina Pub
Kona Brewing's Koko Marina Pub opened in 2003 and technically isn't a brewpub, since it doesn't brew any beers on site but offers the full range of Kona Brewing beers brewed on the Big Island of Hawaii. Kona Brewing opened its brewery in Kailua-Kona in 1995 and opened a brewpub there in 1998.

The setting at the Koko Marina Pub is spectacular, with a tremendous view from dockside overlooking the marina and lush mountains shrouded in clouds. The menu features hand-tossed gourmet pizzas, innovative pupus and sandwiches, salads and desserts made with fresh local ingredients. The pub features a state-of-the-art beer delivery system with 24 taps and carries all of Kona Brewing's ales and lagers, including the three flagship brews -- Longboard Lager, Fire Rock Pale Ale and Big Wave Golden Ale -- and specialty beers and pub exclusives such as the delicious Black Sand Porter, Castaway IPA, Da Grind Buzz Kona Coffee Stout, Hula Hefeweizen and Old Blowhole Barley Wine.

The Koko Marina Pub is located about 20-30 minutes east of Waikiki near Hawaii Kai and the popular beaches at Hanauma Bay. It is definitely worth the trip for a relaxing lunch or great setting to unwind at the end of the day and watch the sunset. The bar areas of the pub was transformed in 2009 into the Liquid Aloha Louge, offering beer-tinis and other cocktails along with live music on weekends.

Kona Brewing's Koko Marina Pub
7192 Kalaniana'ole Highway
(808) 394-5662

The outdoor bar at Gordon Biersch's Aloha Tower brewpub

Gordon Biersch Brewery Restaurant was Hawaii's first brewpub, opened in Nov. 1994 at the Aloha Tower Marketplace in the heart of downtown Honolulu. The marketplace is a busy shopping and nightlife complex surrounding the historic Aloha Tower, which was Hawaii's tallest building at its opening in 1926. The brewpub's outdoor bar overlooks Honolulu Harbor and has a stage featuring a regular lineup of live music. The menu features many of the staples of Gordon Biersch's brewpubs on the mainland, along with local specialities such as pu pu's (appetizers) using fresh fish. The beers are also similar to Gordon Biersch's usual German-style offerings, including a crisp Hefeweizen and the reliable Marzen.

Gordon Biersch Honolulu
Aloha Tower Marketplace
(808) 599-4877

Another brewpub pioneer in Honolulu, Blue Moon, closed in 2009 after a successful run of more than 10 years. Formerly part of a chain of brewpubs based in Boston, Blue Moon opened in Nov. 1998 and went independent in early 2001 when the four mainland locations were taken over by the large Rock Bottom chain. Brewmaster Greg Yount was one of Oahu's most award-winning brewers and hopefully will ply his craft at another brewery.

In addition to brewpubs, craft beer enthusiasts on Oahu can find a wide selection of Hawaiian brewed beers at Duke's Canoe Club located beachfront in the heart of Waikiki Beach. Duke's has several Kona Brewing beers on tap, including the aptly named Duke's Blonde Ale, and a great menu featuring both pub favorites and fresh island fish.

Duke's Canoe Club Waikiki
at the Outrigger Waikiki Hotel
2335 Kalakaua Ave.
Waikiki, Honolulu
(808) 922-2268

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