Next up in our interview with a brewer series (in which we interview professional brewers to find out what we’re doing wrong) is Garrett from Maui Brewing Co. in Hawaii. We got turned on to these guys after hearing a friend rave about their coconut porter. I also heard a great interview with them while trolling my archives of Basic Brewing Radio. Maui Brewing has an incredible local focus, which is part of the reason why us Georgians probably haven’t seen them on the shelves. Secretly I’m hoping they abandon their morals for long enough for them to get some distribution out here. But don’t tell Garrett.
1) In a nutshell, for our non-Hawaiian readers, who are you guys and what are you about?
We sum it up in our motto ?Handcrafted Ales & Lagers Brewed with Aloha.? We are committed to making a truly local, world-class product. Others beers that preach ?Hawaiian? are made in the mainland and shipped over here, we refer to them as ?fake-local.? For us it?s about being true to what you say you are. We see a great deal of local support for our products due to our story. Besides being ?truly local? we are also the best craft beer in Hawaii, with more than 26 medals in the last two years, we also have a strong commitment to our community. We take good care of our staff, and have recently been chosen as the Green Business of the year for Hawaii in recognition of the numerous measures we take to care for the environment.
2) If I understand correctly, you got into brewing via investment consulting. How did a corporate background prepare you for brewing, if at all?
It helps every day. From a sales and marketing standpoint, as well as understanding P&Ls, Balance Sheets, Cash Flow, etc. Knowing how to use financial tools helps you streamline and learn what makes business sense and what doesn?t. Ultimately beer is far more fun, and is about so much more than money. Spiritually it?s been very rewarding.
3) What’s your favorite thing about what you do?
To borrow from someone I respect, dare I say admire, the other Garrett from out East? Garrett Oliver, ?Wine is a handshake, beer is a hug.? I?m a pretty easygoing person and enjoy having a good time. As crazy busy as we are most of the time, it?s nice to see the reception of our beers being so positive. I like the fact that at the end of the day we have a fairly peaceful life, when were done for the day it?s easy to grab a sixpack (okay maybe a twelvepack) and head to the beach with my wife and dog. It?s a pretty sweet place to be brewing beer.
4) You obviously aren’t able to brew with 100% local ingredients, but you still value your community. What does ?brewing local? mean to you?
Our malt and hops of course have to be brought in, yet wherever possible we brew with local fruits and spices to make truly unique beers: mango, pineapple, guava, vanilla, mac nuts, Lilikoi, and various varieties of local honey to name a few. Beer is mostly water 99% or so, if the water isn?t from the local earth, it?s not local beer. It is more than ingredients; it?s who?s brewing the beer and how you respect the community. I?m not saying contract brewing and alternating proprietorships are ?bad? but I do believe the consumer should be given the information to make an informed choice, something their robbed of when the label requirements are as relaxed as they are. Currently only principal business address (city and state) is required, that leaves it open to a lot given that no requirement for where the beer is actually produced.
5) If you were to start a brewery from scratch, what would you do differently this time around (if anything)?
I did start the brewery and distribution from scratch, so if I was to do it again I?d have trusted my gut more on how the facility should be designed. I would?ve definitely gone bigger on the brewhouse. I guess hindsight is always 20/20. I?m happy with the decisions I?ve made; we grew 400% last year so really it isn?t that bad. Ultimately you need to make the decisions the best you can with your means at the time. We knew we?d grow fast, but no one could have predicted this rate. I just have some redesigns that will be implemented in the coming months to increase efficiency.
6) Cans vs. bottles. Cans seem to have the edge in terms of portability, recyclability, and protection of the beer. Are there any other drawbacks to cans other than the stigma of canned beer, and have you been happy with the move to cans?
I think the stigma is awesome; it sets us apart from the rest of the market and gives us an opportunity to twist people?s minds on so many levels. Selling beer, in any package, comes down to educating the consumer. Bottom line is cans are better than bottles for the beer and for the environment. If bottles were better, we?d be bottling. We care about the beer, a lot of effort goes into each batch and we want to be certain that it is always protected once it leaves our caring hands. The can eliminates light and oxygen damage and therefore the beer stays fresher longer. We joke, ?if can can if no can bottle?. Furthermore our cans are made in a local Ball facility on the island of Oahu, with our commitment to supporting local economy it?s a natural fit. ?Buy Local First? is what we ask of our consumers so it?s important we practice what we preach. Plus with cans being locally produced the carbon footprint is reduced dramatically.
7) What marketing tactic has been the most beneficial to you in getting the word out? If “word-of-mouth,” what’s the second most beneficial tactic?
Local or not, if the beer isn?t any good it?s a hard sell. Obviously local is important to us, I?m sure I?ve mentioned that a couple times, but quality and consistency are extremely important to the success of the company. Our beers are considered among the best quality beers in the world. Word of mouth is only as good as the words ? if people can speak positively about the products it helps, if not it?ll hurt. We are also quite vocal about the truth in origin of our products. I?m a believer in that people do business with people they like, so your conduct both on and off the clock is important. What you do for your community, the ethics and morals that drive your mission as well as how your staff feels about the company are of paramount importance. You are nothing without your team and it?s important to take good care of them as well, empower them with knowledge and respect.