Story by Becky Speere | Photography by Nina Kuna
“It’s a cathedral to beer making!” I say to my husband as we arrive for a tour of Maui Brewing Company’s new production facility and tasting room. Tall, earth-colored stucco walls, massive tinted windows and a terraced xeriscape accentuate the structure’s expanse. Built in the middle of the Maui Research & Technology Park in Kihei, with Mt. Haleakala looming large as a backdrop, the $18 million project took fifteen months from groundbreaking to completion, with an additional $1.2 million spent on a photovoltaic system that provides 200 kilowatts of sustainable energy. This new facility is the brainchild of Garrett Marrero and his wife, Melanie Oxley — as unlikely a pair of brewmasters as you’d imagine.
Garrett Marrero came to Maui often to surf, dive and relax. The stress he felt as an investment consultant faded away each time he immersed himself in Maui’s earthly bounties. The simpler lifestyle of the islands wrapped around his soul and called to him: “Live here.” Garrett’s wife, Melanie Oxley, worked for ten years as a financial analyst, and after two visits to Maui, she was ready to trade in her black pumps for rubber slippers, shorts and a tank top.
In 2004, Garrett saw an opportunity. “I knew there wasn’t any locally made beer — all of the [Hawai‘i-namesake] beers were being produced on the mainland. With craft breweries gaining attention across the nation, I couldn’t believe someone wasn’t already doing it here.” A huge potential market for a craft beer made solely in Hawai‘i was obvious to Garrett and Melanie.
Within months, they had moved to Maui and started the business.
With only two attempts at making home-brewed beer, Garrett launched into educating himself on the process, while Melanie kept track of the finances. Their ambition of producing a superb local craft beer was realized in their first year of operation. As if blessed by the Pope, they garnished two medals of excellence for their Father Damien Abbey Ale at the Great American Beer Festival in 2005.
Over the next decade, as demand for their Maui-made craft beers surged, Maui Brewing Company outgrew its Kahana microbrewery, moved into a larger facility in Lahaina town, outgrew that, and built an even larger production facility and tasting room in Kihei, on Maui’s south shore. By its tenth year, the company could boast more than eighty medals of distinction. For the past seven years, the company has sponsored Maui Brewers Festival, which attracts several dozen craft breweries from the mainland, and is considered one of the largest craft beer festivals in the Islands.
Garrett, Melanie and their team of brewers began testing batches of beer at the Kihei site in October 2014, perfecting their craft on the new equipment. We’ve come today to see what’s been brewing — quite literally. Touring the brewery are curiosity seekers like us. The 42,000-square-foot building is filled with shiny stainless steel tanks, a quality-assurance lab, pallet storage stacked with various grains, a canning line, and a 3,000-square-foot refrigerator.
Our guide, Buck Florian, is a home-brewing maverick and longtime employee whom I remember from the Lahaina facility. He brings us to our first stop: the mash tun, a stainless steel tank filled with malted grains and water, otherwise known as wort. It’s during this process that the maximum color and flavor are extracted, leaving the grains behind. As Buck explains, local farmers and ranchers repurpose the spent grains as animal feed.
The wort is then transferred to the kettle to boil. Depending on the style of beer being brewed, the brewer will add hops for bittering and aroma, or include them later during the fermentation cycle. Next, the wort is cooled in a whirlpool to quickly lower the temperature. It’s a necessary step that also comes with added challenges, as cooler temperatures mean the wort is more susceptible to contamination. Buck reassures us that Maui Brewing has it covered.
“We have our in-house quality-assurance engineer, Andrea Baillo, who holds a doctorate in molecular biology. Spigots at the front of the tanks allow her to measure residual sugar, alcohol levels, and also test for the presence of uninvited bacteria.”
A self-contained sanitizing system ensures no human ever enters the tank. Buck stresses the importance of the new automated system saying, “This reduces the chances for bacterial contamination and possible loss of thousands of gallons of beer.”
Yeast is then added to the cooled wort to kickoff the fermentation process. Most of the physical work is complete, and it’s now a waiting game. Depending on the kind of beer being produced, the brew will be ready in seven to twenty-one days.
The facility houses eight stainless-steel fermentation tanks, each holding 3,100 gallons of beer, plus two smaller tanks that hold 775 gallons apiece. Just outside the brewhaus, six tanks each hold another 7,750 gallons. The total is a whopping 95,780 gallons of malted deliciousness, which will eventually fill about 1,021,653 twelve-ounce cans. But who’s counting?
We round the corner and approach the most expensive equipment in the brewery: the canning line. The German-made Krones filler and Angelus seamer is the “Mercedes of canning,” says Buck. These brewery workhorses pull their weight, filling and sealing up to 375 cans per minute — or sixty cases per hour. Don’t bother looking for Maui Brewing Company beverages in a bottle, Buck points out.
He explains, “The lightweight aluminum cans are space saving, reducing shipping costs, and also protecting the beer from sunlight that may affect the flavor. Keeping with our sustainable model, we use a 96 percent recycled plastic ring to hold our four and six-packs of beer.”
With my mind brimming with brewing ingenuity, the only thing that’s left to fill is my belly. We enter the tasting room and grab trays filled with generous samples of Maui Brewing Company’s four flagship flavors: Bikini Blonde, a filtered Munich Helles-style lager brewed with floral hops and Pilsner and Munich malts; CoCoNut PorTeR, a robust dark porter brewed with hand-toasted coconut; Big Swell, India Pale Ale, brewed and dry-hopped to perfection; and Mana Wheat with hints of locally grown fresh-pressed pineapples. I also sample two other beers: Imperial Coconut Porter and the Redcock Doppelbock, one of Melanie’s favorites, then add them to my list of favorites as I make mental notes for my next beer-food pairing.
With thirty-two craft beers on tap in the tasting room, I realize that I could be there all day. Instead, I vow to come back often and keep sampling their new monthly releases. I may find another favorite.
605 Lipoa Pkwy, Kihei | 213-3002
Tasting Room is open every day 11 a.m.-10 p.m.
Tours start every day at 12:30, 1:30, and 2:30 p.m. $5 per person, which includes a flight of four beers; reservations required.
Kahana Gateway Center, 4405 Honoapi‘ilani Hwy. #217, Lahaina | 669-3474
Open every day 11 a.m.-10 p.m. | Happy hour 3-6 p.m.