Kona Brewers Festival pours on the beer, fosters community spirit for 24th year

  • Melanie Seyler struts her stuff for the Trash Fashion Show at the 22nd annual Kona Brewers Festival Saturday at King Kamehameha's Kona Beach Hotel. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)
  • The 23rd annual Kona Brewers Festival. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)
  • Joey Keller shares a toast with his girlfriend Hannah Estey at the 23rd annual Kona Brewers Festival. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)
  • Tanner Davies (left) and Jay Niimi share a toast during the 23rd annual Kona Brewers Festival. (Rick Winters/West Hawaii Today)

KAILUA-KONA — For 24 years, the Kona Brewers Festival has held the unofficial title of the best party in Kona, and for a good reason.

“I have 25 years in the brewing industry and in brew festivals. The festivals sometimes bring out the wrong side of the brewing industry,” said Billy Smith, senior director of operations at Kona Brewing Company. “But here, it’s an amazing balance between the beer and the culture. Being here in Hawaii, there’s a center to it. There’s a spiritualness to it.

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“It’s not your normal brew fest.”

The 24th annual Kona Brewers Festival will be held Saturday at the King Kamehameha Kona Beach Hotel in Kailua-Kona. The event is already sold out, for both VIP and general admission tickets, with an estimated attendance of over 2,000, making it one of the most coveted parties in Kona.

Kona Brewing Company brewmaster Ryan McVeigh said the festival has only increased in attendance and hype since its founding.

“Every year, they look at what happened the year before, and they look at ways to improve upon it,” McVeigh said. “They’re trying to make it a more enjoyable experience, make more money for the community, getting as many people as possible inside and having a great time.”

Saturday’s edition has the same features that beer lovers have come to expect from it — the Run for Hops 5K/10K run at 7:30 a.m., followed by the four-hour festival starting at 3 p.m. for general admission, with entertainment, food, the Trash Fashion Show, and of course, plenty of suds to sip.

Kona Brewing Company has three beers that will be poured at the festival. One is the Hibiscus IPA, a beer released last month to celebrate the brewery’s 25th anniversary. Described as McVeigh as a dry, strong beer with 8 percent alcohol by volume and a rose color, the beer can be found by those who weren’t able to snag a ticket to the Kona Brewers Festival.

“It’s going to be in market for the rest of the year, so that will be something you can find across the state of Hawaii,” McVeigh said. “And then later this year, they’re going to be packaging it on the mainland, so people on the mainland can find it as well.”

The other two beers can only be found at the festival. The White Caps Belgian IPA, which the brewery has made before for the festival, and a beer to be brewed this week with Pink Boots Society, a nonprofit that supports women who work in the beer industry.

A home brew competition is currently taking place, through Friday, and the winner will be able to create and brew a beer with Kona Brewing Company. This prize is new for the competition, and is a way for Kona Brewing Company to encourage the growth of the industry on the Hawaiian islands.

“The home brewers competition is something we’ve added later on, and it’s just grown and grown,” McVeigh said. “It’s really cool to see our home brew community growing along with the rest of the brewing industry in Hawaii.”

Cameron Healy co-founded both Kona Brewing Company and the Kona Brewers Festival with his son, Spoon. The festival began as a one-year birthday party for the brewery, and it raised $5,000 for community beneficiaries in its first year. After the festival in 2017, it had collectively raised over $1 million.

Healy said the festival has remained true to its mission since the beginning, and it’s more than just about the beer.

“The original vision of the festival is exactly what it is today,” Healy said. “A lot of people are there for the party, and they don’t understand the giving part of it. It’s really important that people know their ticket investment is going toward the community.”

Proceeds from the festival benefit environmental, cultural and youth programs on Hawaii Island. This year’s beneficiaries are: ACF Chefs de Cuisine Kona Kohala Chapter, Ahuena Heiau, Aloha Performing Arts Company, Donkey Mill Art Center, Explorations Foundation, Friends of NELHA, Hawaii Wildlife Fund, Honaunau Elementary School, Innovations Public Charter School, Kahilu Theatre, Ke Kai Ola: Saving the Hawaiian Monk Seal, Ke Kula O Ehunuikaimalino, Kealakehe Culinary Program, Kealakehe Project Grad, Keauhou Canoe Club, Keoua Honaunau Canoe Club, Kona Dance and Performing Arts, Kona Pacific Public Charter School, Na Wai Iwi Ola Foundation, Peoples Advocacy for Trails Hawaii, Society for Kona’s Education and Art, and Surf For Special Needs.

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“I love the taste of beer but I also enjoy the moments that it brings,” Healy said. “The convening of people and sharing a beer creates interaction and sharing of stories, it’s just great how it connects people.

“If they’re not coming, they’re missing an awesome community gathering and I think people leave inspired and also feeling like they have had the party of the year.”

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