Brew Review – Honolulu Beer Works (

Location:  328 Cooke St., Honolulu HI, 96813
Date of Visit:  Thursday, November 12, 2015

With the limited time available for my visit to Oahu, I only had an opportunity to visit one craft brewery during the tour.  I’d received recommendations for three venues from Oahu natives in my workplace, so I elected to start at the top of the list and headed off from Aulani to downtown Honolulu and the Honolulu Beer Works.

Thanks to Miz Google, and despite the terrible rush-hour traffic, we located our destination without problems.  There is no parking lot available, so parking is limited to available street and metered parking.  I quickly found an open spot a block from the establishment, checked the coin-only old style meters adjacent to cars already parked and no one seemed to be feeding the meters.  I figured it must be after enforcement hours, so Darling-Darling and I headed off to sample some malted beverage products.

The Venue
The facility is similar to craft brewery/pubs I’ve visited in the Ballard district of Seattle:  Simple warehouse, metal frame, walls and roof, concrete floor, wood benches and chairs, raised and normal-height tables, sturdy wood back stools for the bar and the raised tables, and an open-air area off to the side.  Quite breezy inside as the air blasts from the open air area through the seating area and out the open garage-style door on the street.  One difference is:  No insulation on the walls or roof.  Obviously unnecessary for the climate, but I suspect that their brewing area is a little more rigorously climate controlled, as is their keg room.  The beers are served at a pleasantly cool-but-not-cold temperature that allows free reign for the full flavor and aroma of the beverages.

The Fare:

HBW offers a limited selection of beer food.  We chose the Mac ‘n Cheese – which I strongly suspect is NOT prepared on premise from scratch.  It was served in an aluminum pan looking strictly food factory.  The topping was nicely crunchy, but the taste was lackluster at best.  Darling-Darling inquired as to whether there was really a lot of cheese involved in the mix because it certainly lacked the creamy texture and cheesy tang one might expect.  But then this is a craft brewery, not an upscale lunch and dinner establishment so one should not expect an offering comparable to the Lobster Mac ‘n Cheese at Seattle’s Purple Café!

The customer base was definitely on the younger side when we arrived, but later on there was a distinct graying of the consumer population, so either the product has substantial aging properties, we were there a lot longer than I remember, or there’s a truly broad appeal for the product.  Sure seems like the latter!

The Beverages
HBW offers a small selection of wines and non-alcoholic beverages, but I was here for the beer.  They had 12-15 brews on tap – I didn’t count – including their staple products plus several seasonal brews.  Looking over their selection, I ordered a Beer Flight of a half-dozen – a cross section of their standard and seasonal offerings.  My selections included:
• Pia Mahi’ai Honey Citrus Saison – a wheat-based Belgian style brew at 5.9% ABV and 24 IBU
• Sheltered Bay IPA – a classic, hoppy offering with 7.0% ABV and 70 IBU
• Cooke Street ESB – 5.9% ABV and 34 IBU
 Point Panic Pale Ale – 5.8% ABV and 36 IBU
 South Shore Stout – a smoky dark with 6.7% ABV and IBU 52
• Equinox Wet Hops Red – A classic dark amber with 5.1% ABV and 50 IBU.

The Tastings

1. Honey Citrus Saison:  I’ve never been a particular fan of Hefeweisen – Wheat is for bread.  Barley is for beer (and lots of other things…).  This offering is a mildly sweet brew, with the wheat understated in the taste (if not the ingredients) – perhaps overshadowed by the strong citrusy flavors as you might expect from the ingredients.  The overall impression is somewhat bland but definitely palatable.  All in all, this offering might begin to crack my aversion to the Belgian style.
2. Sheltered Bay IPA:  A good, solid IPA – nicely hopped but not overwhelmingly so.  It offers a taste that gains your attention without shouting at you, and is eminently drinkable.  Darling-Darling is not a beer person, but she liked this one – even so far as taking second and third sips.
3. Cooke Street ESB:  To my uneducated palate (you know how it is – don’t know nuthin’ ‘bout beer, but I knows what I likes!) this particular brew seems a bit sweet for an ESB.  It’s very, very smooth as you might expect from the IBU, but perhaps a little too smooth.  That smoothness is offset by a subtle mix of flavors (their description says “toffee, toasted bread, and caramel”) that matures into a very pleasant after-taste that fades nicely.  An interesting brew, though not my favorite of the evening.
4. Panic Point Pale:  Ah, the Pale.  That’s what I’ve been awaiting.  My home refrigerator standard is the Henry Weinhardt’s Blue Boar Pale Ale.  In comparison, the Panic Point seems a bit watery – a less substantial body than I’d like.  But it has a nice crisp flavor that gets your attention, pleasantly more hoppy than the 36 IBU might lead you to expect.  Like the IPA above, it gets your attention from the first sip and keeps it throughout – with every taste revealing another aspect of its character.
5. South Shore Stout:  Like Hef’s, Stouts and Porters have never been among my personal favorites.  I suspect that’s about to change!  The very pleasant smoky flavor derives from the roasted malt and is nicely presented – this brew definitely affirms that barley is for beer.  Very smooth, with less bite than might be expected from the 52 IBU, it finishes with a very nice after-taste that complements your food selection without smothering it.  I like it, Albert!
6. Equinox Wet Hops Red  This is a Red that compares VERY favorably with a couple of the classic Seattle-area Reds from breweries like Silver City Brewing (Ridge Top Red) and Elysian Brewing (Men’s Room Red)…  A well-rounded body (which is always an asset!), with a bold flavor.  Nicely balanced, not bitter but just enough bite to keep your interest.  More like a hard nibble.  It starts fresh and finishes clean, with a very pleasant after-taste.  Very nicely done, HBW!

Little Dickey Carroll’s Stack Ranking:

1. Equinox Wet Hops Red.  They need to reconsider its “seasonal” status.  This is a truly good product that (in my opinion) should be one of their staples!
2. South Shore Stout.  I surprised myself with this one!  I went in expecting the IPA or Pale to be among the top 2 and the Stout to be at or near the bottom.  Not so!
3. Sheltered Bay IPA.  As noted, a good, solid IPA which should remain a staple for the brewery.
4. Point Panic Pale.  Lower in the stack rank than I’d have expected, but still a quite respectable Pale.
5. Honey Citrus Saison.  Based on my personal preferences, I’d have expected this would be among the bottom feeders.  But that’s as much me as anything else.  The fact that it’s not in last place says good things about it.  And, as noted, I may begin to change my mind about wheat beer based on this offering.
6. Cooke Street ESB.  Least of my favorites among the sample.  ‘Nuff said.

Honolulu Beer Works Says:

Pia Mahi’ai Honey Citrus Saison “Farmers Beer”: 5.7% ABV 25 IBU
Our flagship saison, Pia Mahi’ai (Farmers Beer) is a tribute to the farmers of Hawaii and our take on the classic Belgian farmhouse ale style. Brewed with locally grown oranges, tangerines, lemons, limes, lemongrass and Big Island Honey, Pia Mahi’ai explodes with fresh pungent citrus and spice aromas that follow through in the taste. Our house saison yeast creates complex flavors of allspice, clove and a slight peppery finish. This unfiltered ale is brewed with up to 30% wheat which helps provide a gentle smoothness and a wonderful cloudy appearance. Bright, refreshing and satisfying, we’ve captured Hawaii’s sunshine in a glass.

Sheltered Bay IPA: 6.75% ABV 70 IBU
This Pacific Northwest style IPA is full of bold hop flavors that are balanced by a strong malt backbone. With a deep copper color, our Sheltered Bay IPA has a complex aroma of sweet toffee, freshly baked bread and vibrant orange and grapefruit zest. The medium-full body has a base of toasted malt with just a touch of sweet caramel to provide a great balance for the bold hoppy bitterness from the tons of Cascade hops we use.

Cooke Street ESB: 5.9 % ABV 34 IBU
Our version of the classic Extra Special/Strong Bitter style has a beautiful deep amber color with a frothy white head. Bitter in name only, this ale is extremely balanced with a wonderfully complex palate of toffee, toasted bread and hints of caramel that isn’t too sweet because of the mild hop bitterness. Slight earthy and woody flavors are provided by hops helping to create an enjoyable full flavored and medium bodied, malty ale.

Point Panic Pale Ale: 5.6% ABV 36 IBU
Like the famous bodysurfing break it’s named after, this pale ale is smooth, well rounded and has just a bit of kick. While some pale ales are venturing into the IPA realm of bitterness and alcohol, we’ve created our Point Panic pale ale to be light and enjoyable with just enough piney hoppiness to kick your taste buds. We use generous amounts of Cascade hops throughout the brewing process to layer this pale ale with bright citrus notes and a mild lingering hop bitterness. We round it out with a solid malt backbone providing notes of toasted bread and just a touch of sweetness.

South Shore Stout: 7.0% ABV 52 IBU
Just because you’re in Hawaii doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy a dark, bold stout. Our stout is rich, luscious and black as Pele’s lava fields. The bold roasted malt backbone is hinted with notes of dark chocolate, sweet tobacco and burnt caramel. A touch of sweetness, a touch of bitter and a touch of roast combine to create a perfect full bodied and full flavored stout.

Equinox Wet Hops Red  – this is a Limited Release brew and they don’t have the description on their site, and didn’t have a flyer I could take with me.  Ah, well…

May you never stop learning and may your journeys always lead to new and exciting destinations!