‘One beer, brewed by many’: Local Hawaiian brewer uses shared IPA recipe to replenish wildfire relief

Brew Gentlemen co-founder and CEO Matt Katase checks his mash lauter tun while he brews his Kokua Project Session IPA on Wednesday, Nov. 8, 2023, in Braddock. (Benjamin B. Braun/Post-Gazette)

Brew Gentlemen’s co-founder Matt Katase put down roots in Pittsburgh 15 years ago to study chemistry at Carnegie Mellon University. But he’s never lost his love for the Big Island of Hawaii, where he and his younger sister, Alina, grew up.

So when deadly wildfires swept through the island of Maui in early August, killing 100 and destroying hundreds of homes and business, it was difficult for the brewer not to get emotional.


Even though no one he knew personally lost anyone in the tragedy, “friends of friends did,” says Katase, 33, of Squirrel Hill, adding “Hawaii is a really small community.”

It’s even smaller for Hawaiian brewers. California native Garrett Marrero founded Maui Brewing Co. in the town of Lahaina in 2005 to bring an authentic, locally produced beer to Hawaii. He met Katase “years ago” through industry events.

Within days of the devastating fire, Marrero had an idea for how he could help the local community recover quickly and get people back in their homes: a single beer recipe, which could be brewed by any brewery in the U.S. willing to participate, with 100% of proceeds going to Maui relief efforts.

The craft brewing industry has always encouraged those in its community to help others in times of need with charity events, donation drives and beer collaborations. Sierra Nevada Brewing Company’s worldwide Resilience project, which raised millions to support the victims of the Camp Fire in 2018, is just one example.

So no one was surprised when Marrero was inspired to follow Sierra Nevada’s lead with a call to action of his own on Aug. 15. Or that the Kokua Project, as it’s known, drew an immediate and enthusiastic response.

More than 700 breweries across the U.S. quickly signed up to brew the session IPA called Kokua, the Hawaiian word for “extending help to others.”

Brew Gentlemen, which had the beer on draft and in cans this week, is among 22 Pennsylvania breweries to participate. Other locals include Cobblehaus Brewing Co., Hitchhiker Brewing, Southern Tier-Pittsburgh, Spoonwood Brewing and Recon Brewing.

“It’s just so crazy what happened,” says Katase, who learned about Kokua through his sister in Oahu. Especially when Kailua-Kona, where the siblings grew up, could just as easily been in the wildfire’s blazing path.

Katase and partner Asa Foster started brewing together while studying entrepreneurship at Carnegie Mellon University. They opened Brew Gentlemen brewery and taproom in Braddock in May 2014, and have been growing ever since. They expanded operations from the original 3 1/2 -barrel system to a 22-barrel system housed inside a 13,000-square-foot facility during the pandemic, which has made it difficult for Katase to get back to Hawaii as often as he’d like.

But brewing a batch of Kokua to support those back home, he says, bridges the gap.

“Any way I can connect is meaningful for me,” he says.

After creating the IPA beer recipe, Maui Brewing shared it with breweries across the globe through its website. It also teamed up with suppliers to donate select malts and hops if they brewed the beer for sale in their taprooms and through local distributors with the Kokua label.

Though it took time to coordinate and fit brewing the beer into its production schedule, Spoonwood Brewing has been selling $6 pints of the draft beer in its Bethel Park brewery since mid-October, says brewer Steve Ilnicki. With a 10-barrel batch on hand, it should be on tap, or available by growler and crowler, through at least December.

IPAs, a hops-forward beer that often has notes of citrus, are still the best sellers for craft brewers, says Ilnicki, “so when we saw the recipe, we thought it was a smart choice of beer style” that would be popular with customers. “And obviously, we thought it was a really good cause.”

llnicki also liked the fact that, even though everyone involved would try to follow the recipe as closely as possible, he’d be able to “put our stamp on it” because he’d inevitably be making some tweaks.

One hiccup right off the bat was an inability to source the Waimea hops the recipe called for, leading to a substitution. Ilnicki also decided to lower its potency to 3.8% ABV from the recipe’s originally listed 4.1%. The result is a beer that’s crystal clear and bright in appearance.

“It’s definitely highly drinkable, crisp and refreshing,” says Ilnicki, “with all the hoppiness and firm bitterness you’d find in an IPA, but really low strength — maybe half as strong as most on the market.”

Brew Gentlemen’s 22-barrel batch of the IPA, which Katase started brewing on Nov. 8 with Mosaic and Waimea hops, is a little stronger at 4 to 4.2% ABV and also more hazy. Another slight adjustment: He’s using the brewery’s house yeast strain to ferment the beer “so it’s still a beer within our portfolio.”

Seeing others in the brewing community support a cause to close to his heart, Katase says, is awesome.

“It’s personal for me.”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


By participating in online discussions you acknowledge that you have agreed to the Star-Advertiser's TERMS OF SERVICE. An insightful discussion of ideas and viewpoints is encouraged, but comments must be civil and in good taste, with no personal attacks. If your comments are inappropriate, you may be banned from posting. To report comments that you believe do not follow our guidelines, email hawaiiwarriorworld@staradvertiser.com.