The Local Booze Issue

Booze. Even the word is awesome. And the stuff? Well, it’s even awesomer. Whether you’re laboring to make it through a particularly dull party or family get-together, trying to gather up the gumption to mingle with potential mates or, having mingled, mate with a mate, booze is your best friend. And also, quite possibly, your worst enemy.

That’s the thing about booze—it’s a contradiction in a bottle (or can, highball glass or foil-lined cardboard box, depending on your persuasion). Booze can lift your spirits like a champagne bubble or send you spiraling into an ethanol-soaked rage. Booze can help you dance ’til dawn, secure in the superiority of your patented “dice roll” move, or it can leave you dry heaving into a public trashcan minus an article of clothing and your dignity. 

Here on Maui—home of Barmuda triangle, the green bottle, the happy hour mai tai special—booze is the lubricant that helps tourists enjoy the sunset a bit more and locals numb their desire to do mean things to said tourists. 

Why are we telling you all this? Well, December 5 is Repeal Day, the anniversary of the day in 1933 when the United States Constitution was altered to negate the 18th amendment and re-legalize alcohol. In honor of this momentous occasion (and since we’re in the midst of the holidays, another wonderful excuse to get tipsy) we’ve decided to dedicate this issue to what Charlotte’s Web author E.B. White once called “the elixir of quietude” (hey, you don’t invent an elaborate fantasy centered on a talking pig while sober). In the following pages, we’ll take a look at some island-based libation providers that labor tirelessly to slake Maui’s thirst.

As a disclaimer: we know booze isn’t all good. For some people it’s a serious problem. By celebrating it, we’re not trying to belittle or deny its damaging effects. Obviously your liver—not to mention all the exes whose numbers you haven’t deleted from your contact list—would be better off if you avoided the stuff entirely. 

But, as we said, that’s the inherent contradiction of booze: it’s simultaneously wonderful and terrible.

Kind of like life.

Maui Brewing Company
A beer for every occasion…
By Jacob Shafer

Writing a story about Maui Brewing Co. is an exercise in choosing an angle. There’s the fact that the company, unlike many of its competitors, is local not just on the label but inside the can (for more on those cans, see green sidebar below). With their humble but fully legit brewing facility in Lahaina and a philosophy of using Maui ingredients, labor and goods whenever possible, this is one product that can brand itself as a true part of the island without being disingenuous.

Then there’s MBC’s commitment to sustainability and environmentally friendly business practices—again, one that extends beyond lip service and informs nearly every aspect of the way they operate. (Refreshingly, rather than long speeches about melting glaciers and future generations, owner Garrett Marrero admits that being green is good for the bottom line and that’s a big part of why they do it.)

All of the above are perfectly fine excuses to give the company ink. But none of it would matter without one essential element: the beer.

You can be local and sustainable “˜til the hops wither on the vine, but if the beer isn’t up to par, it won’t do you much good. Fortunately for MBC, the product lives up to the hype.

The best part is, they’ve got an array of concoctions to choose from, meaning whatever your mood (unless, you know, you’re in the mood to not drink) there’s a can of Maui Brew Co. beer for you.

Let’s take a look at a few of the usual suspects:

The Sunday afternoon at the beach beer
The sun and surf are up, the grill is hot and your cooler is full of Big Swell IPA. A hop-heavy beer that still finishes smooth, Big Swell is the perfect accoutrement for seared meat and a scoop of sand-coated potato mac salad. It’ll help you tie on a buzz without weighing you down, a decidedly good thing if you’re planning to keep the tail end-of-the-weekend party going until the last football game is played (or beyond).

The Wednesday evening at home beer
You just dragged your ass back from work; your feet hurt and your head doesn’t feel much better. It’s time to settle into that dent on the couch and get your clicker finger in motion. Your companion? A frothy glass (or three) of Coconut Porter. A dark, toasty blend that plays notes of chocolate and coffee on your taste buds, the porter is rich without being syrupy and exceedingly drinkable yet complex enough to help you forget the weekend’s still 48 hours away.

The Friday before you go out beer
It’s here! Time to shake the sand out of your shorts, pull a comb through your salt-tangled hair (maybe) and tip back a few Bikini Blonde Lagers before you hit the town. An extremely light beer that doesn’t taste like bitter dishwater (we’re looking at you, “lite” beers), it’s the ideal pre-party lubricant, one that’ll get your motor started without flooding the engine.

The time to seriously drown your sorrows beer
Disclaimer: you’ve gotta love hops. If you don’t, steer clear; if you do, and especially if you’re in need of a little memory-clouding liquid therapy, turn to the Double Overhead IPA, the “Big Braddah” of the above mentioned IPA. Packing a hefty 8.5 percent alcohol content, with hints of fruit rafting on the raging hop rapids, this is not a beer to be taken lightly. 

Can vs. Bottle
The battle rages on…

Line up 20 drinkers and ask them to list the characteristics of cheap beer, and the answer you’ll almost certainly get across the board is: it comes in a can. Whether it’s the flimsiness factor, the similarity to soda pop or just some passed-down-through-the-generations stereotype, conventional wisdom holds that you’re not drinking good beer unless it’s coming from a tap or a bottle.

That assumption may be about to change. A growing chorus of voices within the brewing industry is calling BS on the notion that glass equals class. Cans, they argue, are not only lighter and more durable, and thus easier to transport, they’re also a superior way to store beer.

Oxygen is beer’s worst enemy—the more that seeps in, and the more CO2 that seeps out, the greater the likelihood of a skunky product. And while bottling practices have been honed and perfected, even in a best-case-scenario world, that little bit of air at the top of the bottle is a ticking time bomb waiting to corrupt the entire beer.

Cans, on the other hand, can be sealed airtight. They also let in little or no light, another force that can turn tasty ale into undrinkable swill.

Locally, Maui Brewing Co. swears by cans. It’s been an uphill battle for them; owner Garrett Marrero says he frequently has to deal with skeptics who dismiss MBC’s beer without trying it, the ultimate case of judging a book by its cover. (Marrero claims to have won a few converts by taking a can, pouring it into a glass and telling people it’s from the tap before revealing in “Pepsi challenge” fashion that they’ve just enjoyed—gasp!—a canned beer.)

Nationally, the big brewers seem to be catching on. Budweiser recently launched an ad campaign touting the merits of cans, and several companies have released aluminum bottles to help ease what many see as an inevitable transition. Bottles won’t disappear overnight, but their days may be numbered.

As Marrero puts it: “It’s better for the environment, it’s better for the beer. Why wouldn’t you?” -JS

Tedeschi winery
Maui’s only vineyard deals with grape expectations
By Kate Bradshaw

The structure that houses the tasting room at Tedeschi Winery was built in 1874 for King Kalakua, whose epic taste for champagne and gambling earned him the handle “the Merrie Monarch.” The vast and gently sloping grounds surrounding the building are manicured, wrought with florid blooms and massive trees swaying in the Upcountry breeze.

The foyer of this former royal vacation cottage is a museum that tells the story of the vineyard, which sits on Ulupalakua Ranch’s 20,000 acres: Captain James Makee’s acquisition of the land, the king’s legendary romps, the paniolos.

The women behind the wine bar pour splashes of product for visitors, many of them on their way back from Hana.

A bus appears in the parking lot and unloads a gaggle of tourists. The tasting room is awash with knee socks and Boston accents. Elbowroom is scarce around the bar.

Vacationers may flood the place at regular intervals during business hours and bottles of Tedeschi wine may sell like crazy at ABC stores statewide, but the winery is more than a novel way for tourists to catch a buzz. The site is an integral part of Maui’s history. It is Maui’s only vineyard and one of only a few in the state. The challenges that this wine maker faces parallel those currently impacting Maui as whole: declining tourism, the squeeze on ag lands that supply the winery with raw ingredients, tough choices regarding whether or not to bring in materials from off-island suppliers and a climate that makes it tough to grow certain crops.

“Growing grapes is probably the most difficult thing we do here,” says Tedeschi president Paula Hegele. “We have very small yields. The soil is fabulous, [but] the weather is just too nice.”

 Some grapes refuse to grow in the remote Upcountry vineyard, including, Hegele says, a recent stubborn crop of chardonnay grapes that didn’t make the grade. Grapes lack the thick skin that would allow them to withstand the humidity. Plus the vines need the winter months to rest.

Yet the winery still manages to crank out 24,000-30,000 cases of wine each year.

Of course, a significant volume of Tedeschi’s output—and the winery’s most recognizable product—doesn’t utilize one speck of smashed grape.

Hegele says that 60 to 65 percent of the bottles Tedeschi ships out annually are bottles of Tedeschi’s signature wine, the Maui Blanc. The Maui Blanc is made from Maui-grown pineapples; it’s not just a white wine with hints of the fruit.

Wine snobs may collectively scoff at the idea of pineapple wine. Some may be reminded of Boone’s Farm or Arbor Mist or some other liquid relic of adolescence. But they are sorely mistaken, as the stuff is delightful. Not quite a dessert wine, its tartness parallels its sweetness. 

When former owner Emil Tedeschi opened shop in 1974 (producing sparkling wines only at that point) he had no idea that pineapple wine would become his thing.

“They practiced and worked with pineapple  because pineapple was available,” Hegele says.

Soon sparkling pineapple wine, now the Hula O Maui, became the winery’s central product. But they quickly discontinued it.

“They thought they would never be taken seriously if they kept doing pineapple,” Hegele said. In 1994 Hegele brought Hula O Maui back for the winery’s 20th anniversary celebration and decided to keep it on.

 A different challenge has come up of late: finding a new source for pineapple.

Until recently, Maui Land & Pineapple, Maui’s only large-scale producer of pineapples, provided Tedeschi with a steady supply of preservative-free pineapple pulp. Now that the company is more land than pineapple Tedeschi must look elsewhere for this essential ingredient.

Hegele says they’re well stocked with island-grown pineapple at the moment, but may have to bring in pineapples from Mexico or Thailand when the supply runs out—which obviously means that the product will no longer be completely local.

Some people have suggested, Hegele says, that the winery move operations to the Mainland and slap a Maui label on their bottles. But that would clearly be deceptive, she says. 

One can find bottles of Tedeschi wine throughout the isles. Most grocery stores stock bottles of Ulupalakua Red, Hula O Maui, Maui Splash (pineapple wine with a bit of passion fruit) and Maui Blanc.

As New Englanders meander through the winery’s expansive grounds, as day trippers from Waiehu knock back schwills of cuvee, the winery’s 23-acre vineyard is gravid with hope and uncertainty, much like the island on which the vines secure their stock.

Ocean Vodka
Classy vodka that still mixes with Sprite

Not all vodkas are created equal.

There’s the kind you buy in jugs, fifteen bucks a pop, and pour into vats of jungle juice.

Then there’s the vodka that you stow in your freezer for long-term savoring, whether poured neat or shaken into a martini.

Ocean, the only vodka made on Maui (though some ingredients are shipped in from afar), belongs to the latter category. 

The Kahului distillery responsible for its production utilizes certified organic grains (no official word on whether the lack of pesticides reduces hangovers) and desalinized ocean water. Probably not the cheapest distillation process.

I set out to sample this locally produced spirit one recent weekend.

My taste test took place during a gathering in the woods; an unconventional setting for such a venture to say the least. The challenge was giving a damn if I was drinking window cleaner or something derived from Martian rubies, given my surroundings. Plus, beer is usually my beverage of choice at forest gatherings. 

I had a choice of drinking the vodka neat or mixing it with either Diet Coke or Sprite. I went with Sprite for the most part. The drink went over well with my small group of associates, despite the lack of variety in terms of mixers.

To some, especially me, straight vodka is the taste equivalent of being shot in the kneecaps. This may be why the stuff was used both as medicine and in gunpowder during the Middle Ages, according to the Gin and Vodka Association (UK) Web site. (Though to be fair, vodka is probably nothing like it was in the days of the Black Plague.)

While Ocean certainly falls under the classy vodka umbrella by virtue of its production methods as well as its taste, mixing it with something like Sprite wasn’t as incongruous as one might think. Even with something as gnarly as Diet Coke the stuff holds its own. 

Perhaps its being made on Maui that gives it an unquantifiable ability to serve well at even the most laid-back, non-martini conducive situations. -KB

Braddah Kimo’s Rum
Rum’s up for Haleakala Distillers 

“I pity them greatly but I must be mum, for how could we do without sugar and rum?”
-William Cowper

Rum is an essential ingredient in many of the drinks that define Maui (from an alcohol standpoint at least). But odds are most of the pina coladas and mai tais you imbibe are made with rum that’s flown in from somewhere else.

While they don’t yet make enough product to meet the entire island’s demand, if you want to go local with your next mixed drink, track down a bottle of Braddah Kimo’s. Brewed by Haleakala Distillers—a family-owned Upcountry outfit that defines mom and pop—the rum is made using Hawaii sugarcane and Maui water; it’s the only commercially available rum that’s distilled on-island.

In 2007, Kimo’s “DaBomb,” a 155 proof kick in the pants, won a gold medal at the American Distilling Institute’s rum competition. The company’s dark and gold rums have also earned medals.

But, as ever, the proof is in the bottle. We added a blender, a bag of ice, a couple Maui-grown pineapples and a Saturday evening and that bottle came through with flying colors. Or at least we think we saw some flying colors. -JS