Ola Brew has opened its second location, a taproom in Hilo.
Located at 1177 Kilauea Avenue, at the corner of Kekuanaoa Street, the taproom opened to the public July 7 but launched with a soft opening for first responders July 2 and 3.
“Our whole mission is to support the growth of the agricultural economy here in Hawaii,” President Naehalani Breeland said. “And so this is just another outlet and a different location that we can actually … source more locally-sourced ingredients from our local farmers on this side. Then just with all the ingredients we’re putting into our beverages, we can accelerate that growth as well.”
Breeland said Ola Brew can now network with East Hawaii farmers they may not have had the opportunity to work with in Kona because of the distance.
“We started sourcing from a new lettuce farmer over here,” she said. “We’ll be sourcing from some of the same farmers from Kona side, but again it gives us the ability to work with a lot of farmers over here.”
The company’s production facility and original taproom is located in Kailua-Kona.
“A lot of people anticipated that … if we were going to open a new location, we would open on Oahu, but for us it’s really about supporting our local community,” Breeland said. “And we feel like we’ve created something really special on the Kona side, where anybody that came in felt like it was home … .”
Ola Brew knew it had “something to offer,” and Hilo provides a chance to showcase the ingredients sourced locally, said Breeland, who co-founded Ola Brew with CEO Brett Jacobson.
For example, the tangelos in the company’s tangelo cider come from O.K. Farms in Hilo while the pineapples in its white pineapple cider come from Keaau and Honokaa.
“So really being able to showcase those and say ‘hey, we just got our tangelo from right down the street, … we just got our white pineapple from 20 minutes down the road,’ that’s something that we’re really proud of,” Breeland said.
Ola Brew also is “community- and employee-owned,” she said, and had a number of investors from Hilo during its most recent fundraising effort.
“So we were kind of like, you know what? Let’s open over in Hilo. A lot of these … small investors that did invest, have come in over the last couple weeks that we’ve been open, like ‘I invested.’ … So it’s something that people can really see their hard-earned money at work.”
Breeland said response has been incredible.
“We feel so supported. Not only has the local community come out to support, but other local business owners have reached out … so it’s definitely been a warm welcome from Hilo,” she said. “We couldn’t be more stoked to be here. A lot of people are saying this is exactly what Hilo needed, just another fun spot, but for the most part, for us, it’s just another opportunity to showcase what we’re all about, which is creating community.”
The Hilo taproom has a selection of beers and hard ciders, seltzers and teas, along with an Asian-inspired menu created by chef Jeremy Van Kralingen, who grew up in Hilo and recently returned from California.
Van Kralingen said it feels good to be back in Hilo.
“I felt like I got right into it and it feels like all the hard work so far is paying off.”
There are plans for further Ola Brew expansion, but Breeland did not elaborate on what those plans might entail.
She did, however, say the business recently leased 43 acres from Kamehameha Schools to grow ti plants for an okolehao project.
According to Breeland, okolehao, made from the roots of the ti plant, was the first alcohol distilled in Hawaii. As part of the project, Ola Brew will grow ti plants and create a spirit line for okolehao.
“We’ve already won two awards in international competitions for this okolehao,” she said. “It’s probably a year out before we’ll even have it in any of our establishments, then maybe a year-and-a-half before we have it on the market, but definitely really exciting.”