Thursday | December 08, 2016
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Hilo Brewfest: Raise a glass for charity


Tribune-Herald staff writer

Few things are more inviting than an afternoon spent on the seaside with good friends, food and entertainment, accompanied by plenty of top-notch beers to wet your whistle.

That’s the theory behind a new fundraiser that members of the Rotary Club of Hilo hope will catch on as an annual Hawaii Island tradition, similar to Kona’s well-established Kona Brewers Festival, which just celebrated its 18th brewfest in March.

The Hilo Brewfest, scheduled for June 1 from 2-6 p.m., will take place on the grounds of the Wainaku Executive Center and will feature sample beers from 20 different breweries.

“I’ve been going to brewfests for years, and when the Rotary president said he was looking to do a fundraiser … this idea came to mind,” said one of the event organizers, Bob Hanley, 51. “Primarily, it’s about featuring craft beers from smaller breweries that produce limited amounts of beers. And we’ll have large brewers, too, like Guinness.”

Among the brewers are Hawaii favorites Kona Brewing Company, Big Island Brewhaus, Maui Brewing Company, Aloha Beer, Mehana Brewing and Hawaii Nui Brewing.

Mainland brewers include Anderson Valley Brewing based in Boonville, Calif., Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, Wash., Goose Island Brewing from Chicago, Ill., and many others.

While there will be a plethora of beers to sample, Hanley stressed that the goal is not for people to drink in excess.

“It’s a beer-tasting event, not a beer-guzzling event,” he said. “We’re just sampling beers. It’s not an all-you-can-drink event.”

Entry to the brewfest, which costs $40, entitles all over-21 attendees to a wrist band and eight drink tickets, each good for a 4-ounce sample of beer. Additional drink tickets can be purchased for $2 apiece.

It’s a standard setup for a beer-tasting event, providing attendees with a good opportunity to try a wide variety of concoctions, Hanley said.

“I like experiencing all the different flavors different brewers are able to create,” he said. “I also like to make home-brewed beer, but I’m not very good at it.”

Tom Kerns, a 48-year-old brewmaster and owner of Big Island Brewhaus in Waimea, which will be offering beer for tasting at the festival, knows all about home brewing — that was how he began his career in the ’80s and ’90s.

“I grew up in wine country in Oregon in the mid-’80s, when brewing was just taking off. Home brewing became a passion, starting in ‘88, and I became professional in ‘93,” he said. “I really enjoy creating my own versions of traditional recipes, like pilsner or lager, as well as new and innovative things.”

For instance, he recently brewed up a batch of beer infused with the flavors of toasted coconut, chocolate and sea salt — an experiment that yielded great results and plenty of positive feedback from beer connoisseurs.

“We’re really looking forward to having a good community gathering at the Hilo Brewfest,” he said. “It’s for a good cause, and we’re looking forward to reaching more people. … I love talking with people and talking about beer.”

Proceeds from the event will go toward the Hilo Rotary Club Foundation’s various charities. A total of 60 percent will specifically be donated to the Hawaii Health Systems Corp.’s Primary Care Training Program, which is working to attract more primary care physicians to address Hawaii Island’s doctor shortage.

Attendees of the brewfest are asked to park in the grass parking area between Kamehameha Avenue and the beach road near the canoe race area on Hilo Bayfront. A free shuttle will ferry attendees back and forth from the Wainaku Executive Center during the event.

In addition to plenty of sudsy treats, live entertainment and various plates of food from area restaurants are also on the menu. Good grinds are an important addition to any brewfest, argued Kerns.

“It’s good to combine the unique flavors of your beer with good food,” he said. “For instance, our Belgian-style beers go well with seafood — the fruitiness and richness of fresh fish and shrimp or lobster. Our IPA (India Pale Ale) goes great with spicy food. It can cut right through the spice and carry it through. Meanwhile, we have a beer called White Mountain Porter that has toasted coconut and coffee. It goes really well with ice cream.”

More information is available at the event’s website, Organizers said online tickets are sold out, but some are still available from individual members of the Rotary Club of Hilo.

Email Colin M. Stewart at


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