13 June 2013

Pacifically unspecific

Some summery beer from the Craft Brewers Alliance today, this time from their pseudo-Hawaiian Kona range.

To start, after one afternoon's hard gardening graft I kicked back with a Longboard lager. A pretty label but a cavalier approach to Irish consumer law on the part of the importer as there's no ABV given. It's a very pale yellow and perfectly clear, and on tasting comes through as very slightly dry with a hint of grain. Soft of texture and with a whisper of some vegetal hops on the nose, it did the job, but really this could be any one of a thousand hot country lagers which all do the same job. Not suited to considered analysis, but as a lawnmower beer it's as good as any other. It didn't last long.

Second up is Big Wave golden ale. Again, no idea of the strength, so I optimistically shoved it into a Duvel glass. As I did so there was a wonderful waft of peach and melon. It settled quite a dark gold, almost heading towards amber. There's little by way of head and the carbonation, like the lager, is pleasantly low. That peach and melon thing continues in the flavour and really it doesn't do much else. The peach notes begin quite concentrated on first sip, almost dank, and then they level off into a very pleasant sweet juicy sensation. The finish is a kind of mineral tang which the less charitable might say is watery but I like it. It's a simple summer beer, light and sessionable but far from characterless.

Third in the set is the pale ale, Fire Rock, and a very dark shade of pale it is too. The all-important freshness check shows the bottle is only a smidge over two months out of the brewery, which is within the acceptable zone. Worryingly, the aroma was less apparent than with the golden ale: I got a bit of golden syrup, but not not very much of it. The flavour is rather muted as well: it finishes quite bitter but there's no run up, just a very slight spicy perfume flavour but no fruit or herbs or, well, hops. The slight caramel from the malt is OK as it goes, but what we have here is something much more like an English brown bitter than an American pale ale. Disappointing.

Lastly it's Koko Brown, a brown ale brewed with toasted coconut and "natural flavor added" -- yum. It's a clear chestnut brown colour with a definite bang of Bounty bars off it, dark chocolate ones, specifically. Thankfully it's not a sugar bomb, but the coconut is inescapable and there's not much coming through from the beer underneath. Maybe some of the sweetness is malt-derived, and there's a dryness which could be dark toasted grain as easily as toasted coconut, but really this has been put together to make people say "Wow: it's a beer that tastes of coconut!" That's what it is and that's what it does; don't look for anything else.

Simplicity seems to be what the Kona range are about if these are anything to go by. Big Wave was the only one that impressed me, and even it didn't really operate on more than one level. If you're looking for dependable American beers that mostly do what they say, these are for you.


  1. Kona is not a brewery I care for. Fire rock is OK when fresh in the US.
    I have never been impressed.

  2. I have to chafe somewhat at the phrase "pseudo-Hawaiian Kona range." Craft Brewers Alliance is actually an alliance--three separate breweries. Kona is an old stalwart on the Big Island, and all their recipes originate from there, by brewers there. Rather than sending bottles out to the middle of the Pacific to be filled and then sent back to the mainland, Kona's lower-48 production is handled in Portland.

    The Longboard is fine, and welcome when you're on the island, but Fire Rock is their weakest beer. The Koko Brown, Pipeline Porter, and Wailua Wheat (I think now restyled Wailua Ale) are their more interesting island beers. Pipeline is made with Kona coffee, and Wailua Wheat with passionfruit--a dead ringer for citrusy hops.

  3. If they're Hawaiian branded and not produced in Hawaii then they're pseudo-Hawaiian.

    Next thing you'll be telling me Killian's Red is Irish.

  4. They ARE produced in Hawaii. That's where the brewery is located. It's not branding. I have enjoyed a Wailua Wheat in one of the finest pubs on the world--and indoor-outdoor job where palm fronds serve as the ceiling. They've been brewing beer there nearly 20 years. You may look down your nose at a contract-brewing arrangement to distribute in the lower 48, which is your prerogative. But I don't think you have the juice to deprive the company of the rights to the grounds on which it rests.