When you are the new kid in town and the odds are stacked against you like a wall of Heineken bottles, how do you find your niche, your reason to make the other kids want to play with you? The answer? Just be yourself. This green bottle town is slowly climbing out of the drunken state it has been in, and with that sober enlightenment they are making the conscious decision to not pollute their palates, and have a few at Honolulu Beerworks.
Before I give you my honest UrD ratings of the entire range of their brews (yes I sat there alone and had every last one), let me paint you a picture of how it feels to be in this place that just seems oh-so-right. You walk passed the bike racks (very Oregon) and through the door to find a heavy wood theme throughout. Barrels making up part of the decor (and even part of the seating arrangements) along with bench seating give it a true craft experience. The chalkboard menu and the open area to view the fermentation tanks kind of makes you feel like you’re part of the process. Its simple, and that means there is nothing to distract you from enjoying the company you’re with, whether it be friends, family or just your flight… so with that…
The first beer I tried was the Pua Mahi’ai Honey Citrus Saison and I was not ready for the amplified nature of this beast. I was used to the subdued Belgian/Hefeweizen-like flavors of saisons but at first sip it was an indication of something much different, much better. The honey and citrus are not overpowering but just loud enough to let you know they are there. In fact they help celebrate the farmhouse flavors by accenting the sweetness and balancing the bitterness with the citrus. The ABV is higher than I’m used to for a saison at 6% but it’s a welcome burn. One of the better saisons I’ve had and it comes in at 7/10 UrD.
I’m a fan of the IPA if you haven’t guessed, so there is a certain level of expectation that comes with the many variations in the world. HBWs most definitely has “variations”. It’s not an IPA but I started with the Point Panic Pale Ale which was a pretty straight forward pale with a fruity backhand. It’s got an English style dryness to it and a 5.8% ABV burn, 6/10 UrD.
It seems like every brewery is doing a session-able IPA and HBWs is no different. The Surf Session Single Hop IPA “Zythos” has a very bitter, almost rye aftertaste with a delicate 4.8% ABV. 6/10 UrD
Every place has a flagship, and I would put this one in that category easily. The Sheltered Bay IPA is an English style, bitter and dry, smack in the mouth with a malty backbone. A 7.7% all day IPA that pleases and gives a tip of the hat to tradition and I can respect that. A strong 6.5/10 UrD with more potential.
Sometimes it’s a good thing to throw all your eggs into one basket. The Red India Pale Lager (R.I.P.L.) is a great example of balancing conflicting characteristics to the point of harmony. One flavor doesn’t shine over the other and delivers on all expectations created from the name. Great red flavor with a hoppy, dry swish through the mouth and finished with a clean lager breath. The 6.9% ABV doesn’t hurt neither…well maybe a little. Solid 7/10 UrD.
The lighter brews like the Kewalos Cream Ale are always going to be a problem for me. Blindfolded I would have called it a light lager, which gave me the impression that this was just brewed for the stubborn green bottlers. It was probably not of course but alas there was a reason I have sworn them off. The 5.3% couldn’t save this one for me. 4.5/10 UrD. The Cooke Street ESB on the other hand? Dangerously drinkable and not too bitter for session-able enjoyment. Easy 6/10 UrD. Then their Animal Farmhouse swoops and reminds you of what they are really capable of. Classic farmhouse flavors but with a heavy German Hefe influence. It was airy on the palate with the yeasty taste profile infiltrating all your senses. The 4.7% ABV is a recipe for all day and helps it earn a 7/10 on the UrD.
Lastly, the darker offerings to the Upright Drunk. The 7% South Shore Stout is a coffee heavy straight forward, just bitter enough stout that you could almost forget was a beer. A 6/10 on the UrD. Next, the German inspired Incinerator Dopplebock. 8.5% is nothing to shake a stick at and they do well to give you that all day sausage effect that you’re supposed to get from German style brews. A good beer, but not my favorite dopplebock and it comes in at 6.5/10 UrD. Finally my favorite beer of the night was the Winter Swell Dark Ale. The yeast and sugars hit you up front and the exhale is frosty. I got the Christmas spirit from this one, and boy did I need that. 5.6% ABV is nice but I think a little more of a boozy burn could do this one excellent. For all my gripes this one was actually pretty delicious, and deserving of a 7.5/10 UrD.
These guys are on the right path and I can’t wait to see what they do next with a year under their belt and some support from the likes of you and me. Maybe some barrel aging or a palate wrecking, hop forward IIPA? One can hope, and one does…