KAILUA-KONA — When customers come to Ola Brew Co. on Luhia Street, they can sip on the new brewery’s Ola Pale Ale or Ola Lager as they look out the taproom’s windows onto the brewery floor below.
Also on the menu is the brewery’s Dragonfruit Cider, made using dragon fruit harvested from Kona Hawk Farm in South Kona, and the White Pineapple Cider, which uses white pineapple from Manalulu Farm in Honokaa.
It’s easy to see founder and CEO Brett Jacobson is big on locally sourced ingredients.
And for him, Ola Brew Co. is more than a place to grab a craft beer or cider, it’s also an opportunity to support local farmers in a meaningful, sustainable way.
“So everything we do has to come back to the mission,” he said. “If we’re not supporting local farmers here in Hawaii and utilizing local ingredients and creating more self-sufficiency as an island community, well, then it’s kinda like cool, but not really on our radar.”
The brewery celebrated its grand opening last night and the celebration continues again this evening with live music.
Seven years ago, Jacobson started Hawaiian Ola, which itself began as a project to build demand for more organic agriculture in the state with a specific focus on canoe plants and plants significant to Hawaiian culture and the local community.
Hawaiian Ola’s current products include non-alcoholic drinks derived from noni, such as its noni energy juice shot or sparkling noni punches — which come in a variety of flavors like pineapple and ginger turmeric, sweetened with Hawaiian honey — and Kona coffee leaf teas.
The big game-changer for the new brewery, though, isn’t in front of the taps, but in its canning facility. That piece of machinery will allow it to can drinks locally — instead of shipping the product to the mainland to get the job done. That will expand opportunities for the company and farmers with whom they do business.
In addition to focusing on local ingredients, Jacobson said it’s always been a goal to manufacture products locally as well.
That, however, required building up enough demand to justify a canning facility in Hawaii.
With Hawaiian Ola’s noni drinks, Jacobson said it would take another several years to get big enough to justify a full facility.
And then Jacobson met Sebastian Bach, Ola Brew’s new brewmaster who’s bringing years of experience to the venture.
“He moved to Hawaii, and he made some beers and they tasted amazing,” said Jacobson.
Putting two and two together, Jacobson saw an opportunity to expedite the company’s production goals while also diversifying what it could offer customers.
And because the beer market is dominated by imported products, it also represented an opportunity to build on their mission.
Having a local canning facility also opens up the opportunities to support local farmers. For the last seven years, Hawaiian Ola’s products have been canned in Arizona, where it faced a minimum production level of 120,000 cans per flavor.
That narrowed the market to sourcing ingredients already being mass-produced by already successful businesses on a large scale. Having the ability to can products locally means the brewery can work with smaller farms and, as a result, give those farmers justification to expand their businesses.
“It bridged the gap between the small, local-producing farms and the mass-producing imported goods,” said Jacobson.
It also opens up great opportunities for Ola Brew itself.
“We’re at a really exciting point right now, where we can make micro-batches and all kinds of stuff with the facility that we have now,” said Naehalani Breeland, director of marketing.
Cans of Ola Brew aren’t likely to show up on shelves immediately though, said Jacobson, saying it will most likely start in its taproom and keep draft sales on Hawaii Island.
But, he said, it should be canning and selling 12-packs of its beer at a competitive price throughout the state within three months. And Jacobson sees no shortage in future opportunities to boost the core mission and move toward even greater self-sufficiency.
After all, if Ola Brew is going to add beer to its offerings, “the only rationalization” for doing so is if it can eventually source all of its hops and grain here on Hawaii Island, which Jacobson says it can.
“Beer sovereignty,” he calls it.
Barley, for example, is already growing in Waimea for cattle feed. That means Ola Brew could source it for beer, he said, it just need to be able to create a demand big enough to justify a malting facility and harvesting equipment that could lead to production of a 100-percent Hawaii-grown and -manufactured beer.
Five years from now, he said, the plan is to have an estate beer made with ingredients grown and produced right here in Hawaii.
“That’s our long-term plan in the beer industry, which will differentiate us from all the other craft breweries as well as create a huge impact for local farmers here in Hawaii,” he said.
Ola Brew Co.’s grand opening celebration continues today in the Old Industrial Area. The outside bar opens at 5 p.m. and live music begins at 6 p.m., continuing through 10:30 p.m. The side yard closes at 11 p.m.
With all the focus on sustainability and cultivating local agriculture, Ola Brew is still focused on pouring top-notch beer and cider that competes with the best in the world.
“The point is that this is a craft beverage facility,” said Breeland, “and that quality products and delicious products come out of this.”
Breeland’s personal favorite, she said, is the kiawe red, made with ground, toasted kiawe pods.
A relative of the carob tree, the Molokai-sourced kiawe brings a chocolate-like flavor to the brew.
“It’s delicious; it’s unique,” she said. “I think nobody has ever tasted anything like it.”