Kona Brewing has brought Koko Brown Ale to market, the first new beer available on the mainland from the brewer since 2007, and the third launch in Kona Brewing’s Aloha Series. Brewpublic was granted a preview of the new Koko Brown last week at a special event in Portland hosted by Thatch Tiki Bar in which Kona President Mattson Davis was on hand to discuss the dry, toasted coconut infused dark chestnut-brown hued ale with a distinct nutty aroma.
The Koko Brown was first tapped at Kona’s Kailua-Kona pub in the summer of 2009 under the name Coco Loco. According to the brewery, Brewmaster Rich Tucciarone lists Koko Brown’s best food pairings as those with coconutty and caramelly ingredients, such as Thai curries, coconut rice, caramelized roast turkey and chocolate dipped macaroons, as well as aged cheeses, barbecued meats and carne asada. Koko Brown Ale became available in West Coast markets February 2, and will remain through May 1, 2011.
The light 5.5% ABV, 28 IBU ale joins the seasonal lineup of Kona’s Aloha Series brews that also include their Pipeline Porter, brewed with Kona coffee, and Wailua Wheat, with passionfruit. Davis says that the ingredients used in each of these beers from the series reflects the tropical and Hawaiian ingredients symbolic of their origin. Since Kona recently joined in on the Craft Brewers Alliance, a group of companies tied to Anheuser-Busch/InBev such as Widmer, Redhook, and Goose Island, it has afforded greater distribution of Kona’s beers as well as the ability to reduce shipping costs that eventually would be picked up by the consumer as well as Kona’s carbon footprint. Davis says that the labels of Kona’s beers also depict real places in Hawaii, a strong element to their company’s marketing.
Mattson Davis began as president with Kona in 1997, two years after the brewery’s first batch was produced in February of 1995. The restaurant at the brewery location opening in 1994, the same year that Kona obtained BridgePort Brewing’s old system (then Ponzi’s bottling line). The brewery began alternating proprietorship with Widmer in 2001 and initiated distribution through Widmer/Craft Brewers Alliance network in 2003. According to Davis the “full tilt boogie” with CBA began in the summer of 2010. Now, Kona beer is also brewed in Portsmouth, New Hampshire and Woodinville, Washington and is distributed in 29 states on both coasts. In New Hampshire, Kona employed a Kahu, or island priest, who came up from Boston to bless the new undertaking. Davis says it worked out well because the Kahu was also worked for the EPA with water quality.
Davis says he enjoys returning to Portland about a dozen times a year checking in on Kona’s tasting products and catching up with friends. From the Big Island where the “Big 5” core beers are produced, Kona put out between 11-12,000 barrels last year, draught only. In Portsmouth, more than 30,000 barrels were produced, and in Portland, their biggest production comes from Widmer, more than 142,000 barrels. Davis says the Woodinville (Redhook) venture just started a few weeks ago, but he is optimistic about the yield there, though Portland is by far Kona’s largest production market.
Mattson Davis spent much of his young adult life in Portland, Oregon. He turned 21 in 1986 during the uprising of the early craft beer revolution when companies like BridgePort and Portland Brewing were in their infancy. He sites Art Larrance (currently of Cascade) as a big part this beginning. “I also drank a lot of Henry’s Ale at the time” he admits. “Back then I was in the restaurant business working for Pizzicato. He appears to fully grasp the concept of hard work and customer service, beginning in the industry waiting tables. “I personally enjoyed serving people” he says. He found himself in management in 1995 with the local pizza chain. “I like the brand experience with beer” he attests. “Beer has soul. A guy doesn’t just tell another guy ‘Let’s talk’ or ‘Let’s catch up.’ He says ‘Let’s have a beer.’ It’s an experience.” Davis’ partner at Kona, Tom Calhoon founded Kettle Chips in Salem, Oregon, and thanks to the early success of the potato chip brand in the Europe, Kona was able to pursue their vision. But it wasn’t easy. Davis says that in the early days, the brewery would pay around $5,000 for about $200 worth of grain that was shipped from the mainland. It seems like a no-brainer that Kona has moved much of its brewing operation to the mainland. Davis is confident in the quality and consistency of Kona’s product, and from what we can tell, it’s always been top notch.
More on Kona’s Aloha Series:
The vintage artwork on Koko’s bottle and packaging depicts a stand-up paddler on the calm waters of Maunalua Bay, in the shadow of Koko Head and Koko Crater. Stand up paddling (SUP), or hoe he’e nalu, is one of the fastest growing recreational sports in the world. Paddling served as the ancient Hawaiians’ mode of solo transport in visiting remote villages and fishing grounds, and today, SUP competitions often launch at the docks below Kona Brewing’s Koko Marina pub. Kona Brewing sponsors a number of SUP competitions including Battle of the Paddle and Maui Jim Surf Monkey, as well as brand ambassadors Jenny Kalmbach and shaper Tom Pokahu Stone.
The 3rd in the Aloha Series, Koko Brown joins Wailua Wheat and Pipeline Porter in the Kona Brewing Company lineup. It will be available in 12 ounce bottles and draught February 21 through May 1, 2011 in the west coast states of Hawaii, Alaska, Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Nevada, California, ? Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico.