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Hawai‘i Beer: Pushing the Envelope

noe tanigawa
noe tanigawa

There are about 2 million people across the U.S. brewing beer at home, and two thirds of them joined the bandwagon since 2005.  This growing phenomenon boasts thousands of clubs across the nation, but most often, it’s a handful of people banding together in garages, comparing notes, seeking and drinking remarkable beers.  In HPR’s ongoing series on local craft brewing, Noe Tanigawa reports from a carport brewery in a cul de sac in K?ne‘ohe.

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Credit noe tanigawa
Vince Gallo with yeast in his home brewing lair.

"Am I allowed to say he’s always been kinda geeky?"  Katie Gallo is talking about her husband, Vince, standing nearby in their garage/brewery.   There are metal tubs, coolers, and a large vat, with copper coils and tubing snaking around and between them.

"He’s always been very analytical since I’ve known him so this is kind of a natural fit for him.  He’s a big hobbyist, so I can’t say I‘m surprised this is something he’s naturally gravitated toward."

Vince says he started casually in college, and fell into it again a few years ago.  The equipment just kind of evolves.

Gallo:  Now it’s much more of an artform.  We’re really trying to make the best beer possible.  Beers you’d spend twenty dollars for a 750 ML, we can make quite a bit cheaper ourselves.  We also make beer we can’t get here. Some of those really good craft breweries in San Diego or further East, just can’t get them here.

Even craft beer breweries, he says, aren't able to brew the rare specialty beers.

Gallo:  They’re limited too.  They’re limited by how much stuff costs and how much availability there is, hops that’s a big one.  Homebrewing we really don’t have too many limits, as long as we can get the supplies and equipment, we can make it.  So we can make some very interesting beers.  

For this batch, Gallo had spent $80 on supplies for what would become 5.5 gallons of beer. 

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Credit noe tanigawa
Cindy Goldstein, who has information for farmers and home gardeners about how to grow hops. AgMatters@hawaii.rr.com

Today Vince and brewing co-conspirator Cindy Goldstein, are  brewing a take on Pliny the Elder, a beer made by Russian River Brewing Company in Santa Rosa California. 

Gallo:  I’ve never been able to try it.  It’s one of the highest rated IPA’s out there.  We can’t get it here.  I have never tried that beer.  I’m sure I'll like it but I just don’t know.  So I decided, I’ll just brew one up...and Cindy said let’s make a rye out of it, so I still won’t have tried the beer but we’ll try something else.

They’ll be adding rye, which will give it a spicy note, and a little more body, more character. 

Gallo:  We’re adding rye and flaked rye to this batch,  it uses a lot of hops.  That right there is cost prohibitive for a lot of craft breweries and micro-breweries. I haven’t even counted how many hops we’ll be using  in it, but it’s a good bit.  It’ll be the highest hop beer we’ve done yet. 

Crushed barley, called the malt, is the primary ingredient.  Some are light, some are much darker indicating different flavors.  The barley has been sprouted, heated to certain temperatures for certain durations, they’re dried again, and crushed. 

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Credit noe tanigawa
Barley and various grains to be used in brewing a different take on Pliny the Elder, an IPA recipe from Russian River Brewing in Santa Rosa, California.

Barley, steeped in hot water, is called the mash and yields the sugar that yeasts convert to alcohol and CO2. Other grains like wheat or rye can be added for flavor.  Hops are added for various durations to add bitterness to the brew. Finally, after hops and grains are removed, the hot, nutrient rich liquid is called the wort.  

Gallo:  So this is a combination wort chiller and whirlpool.  Wort from the kettle gets pumped through to the pot and you want to start doing everything as aseptically as possible.

Goldstein:  We want to make sure that once we stop the boil and start lowering the temperature, you want to do everything as aseptically as possible, to have nothing else grow in there but the yeast you are introducing once the beer is cold.

Gallo: I am taking a PH reading on the mash. And I want it to be between 5.2 and 5.6.  Right now it’s a 5.45 color, which is a little high but not bad.    

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Credit noe tanigawa
Vats, spigots, tubes, thermometers, clipboards, and jugs all come in handy for the home brewer.

When the wort is cooled to the desired temperature, it will run from the kettle to the carboy for a final addition.

Gallo:  Once we add yeast it becomes beer.

Home brewing is how just about every brew pub owner begins.  Nicholas Wong is one of the founders of Beer lab.

Wong:  Kevin (Teruya) hurt his back, so he was at home and he was bored and he started to brew beer.  So as he started to brew more and more beer, we all would come over and hang out at his house and brew beer with him.  That’s actually our pilot system that we started on right there.

Beer Lab is located in a former bank at the corner of University and Betetania.  Their cooler is a former vault.

Wong:  I actually got to go traveling to Delaware, there’s a craft brewery there called Dog Fish Head. The whole concept of a brewery---there was nothing like that in Hawai‘i.  The customers were happy, the bartenders were happy, the brewer came out, talked to the customers, had a beer.  Everyone was happy in a laid back environment, and I thought, I wish we could bring that to Hawai‘i.  So we opened a brewery.

I asked Bart Watson of the national Brewers Association if it really makes a difference, if the brewery is a mile away or if you’ve got taps right off the vats —he said it does.

Beer Lab co-founder Kevin Teruya is the resident brewmaster:  That’s one thing we couldn’t get here.  The freshness of a beer that comes from a brewery.

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Credit noe tanigawa
Brew master Kevin Teruya with a handful of pelletized hops.

Wong:  I really wasn’t into craft beer to start with.  I was like, I drink beer, it’s good, I can’t taste the difference.  But I went travelling with these guys to San Diego, and when you go to a brewery and you try a freshly made beer, made correctly with good ingredients, good quality grain, good quality hops, anybody can tell the difference.  It’s almost mind blowing to go from what we get in Hawai‘i versus what’s freshly locally brewed with quality.

One busy Friday night, Beer Lab had nine brews on tap, seven of them were unique one offs, available while they last, usually about a month.  Brand new: the Falsecrack.

Wong: One thing we stress, what we like to do differently, is we like to experiment a lot with yeast.  You can have two of the same worts that you start with and pitch two different yeasts and you’ll get two completely diferent beers.

Teruya:  Yeast can determine style.

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Credit noe tanigawa

Wong:  So what Kevin’s job really is, he has to go in his mind, and think what kind of beer he wants to make, figure out what kinds of grains he’s going to put in to make the sugar water, figure out what kind of hops to put in to get that bittering and flavors, and then figure out what kid of yeast he wants to put on it at what temperature and what amount to get the type of beer he’s getting in the end.

Typical beers take about 2-3 weeks, if they barrel age, it will take half a year or so.  They’ve got some aging in Kohana Rum casks.

Teruya:  A lot of breweries have their own house strains of yeast.  We like to experiment with so many different yeasts, we don’t’ really have a house yeast per se. 

Wong:  There’s a whole other range of sour beers which is a longer fermentation, you’re utilizing bacteria and yeast.  Yeast is a fungus, using bacterias, funguses and different ranges of microorganisms, what we do have is, we do have a strain we use to do that type of beer. 

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Credit noe tanigawa
Beer Lab is barrel aging some beer in Kohala Rum casks.

Like a local bacteria strain?

Wong:  It’s just with us.  I mean, you have bacteria and yeast on your hands, there’s yeast in the air, there’s yeast everywhere and it just really started to morph into our strain, after using it a bunch of times.   

Teruya:  A lot of breweries it’s based on their location, their local fauna.

Sour beers can be entry beers for wine drinkers and are growing in popularity.  

Wong:  Experimenting with fermentation is really where we started to go.  Sake is fermented, kombucha is fermented, beer is fermented, a lot of things we eat and use in life is fermented. Cheese is fermented. So by us starting to experiment with different yeast and different strains and different fermentations, it led us down this path of doing all these crazy things we’re playing with.

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Credit noe tanigawa
Beer Lab co-founder Nick Wong says 90% of their beers have never been brewed before they turn up on tap here. Only two or three are ever repeated on the menu. Beer Lab also serves sake and kombucha on tap.

There were two kombucha varieties and a home brewed sake on the menu.   You guys are taking beer and following it in this very geeky way.

Wong:  Yeah, it’s kinda where the Lab came from.

They don't try to do food--it's byof.

Back in the Kaneohe carport, Goldstein points out they do not brew in the manner of Auntie Marialani.

Goldstein:  Notice, Vince and I are not drinking.  While we are brewing, we are brewing.  We don’t do much in the way of drinking while we’re brewing because you don’t want to forget an ingredient or have a temperature go too high or too low.  You want to pay attention.  Then you get to a certain time when everything is done and essentially just cooling.  

Well, neighbors are starting to arrive, lawn chairs are coming out, Chris is cutting a cigar, and it looks like a fine afternoon ahead.

Barley cannot be cultivated commercially in Hawai‘i but if brewers want to go local with their product, they can experiment with hops and with yeasts.  Cindy Goldstein has been conducting a state Agriculture Department study on the feasibility of growing hops in Hawai‘i.  Normally, hops grow in colder environments where temperature and primarily, night length, stimulate flowering.  Hops grow on trellises eighteen to twenty feet high, connected by wires.  In Hawai‘i, supplemental lighting could be used, and two or three growth cycles might be possible.  Goldstein has found Cascade, a common hops, performs well here, with Nugget and CTZ also showing promise.  Find out more:  AgMatters@hawaii.r.com

There is one home brewing supply store on O‘ahu, Homebrew in Paradise.

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Credit noe tanigawa
Beer Lab perpetrators (l-r) Derek Taguchi, Kevin Teruya, Nicolas Wong, Eulerson Pajimula, Kenneth Shiu. They brew (with their young families) every Saturday.

Noe Tanigawa covered art, culture and ideas for two decades at Hawaiʻi Public Radio.
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