‘Beer in Hawai‘i’ Founder Tim Golden became Hawai‘i’s beer expert in 2013, when O‘ahu’s craft beer scene was in its infancy. In the wake of a major industry rebound, he co-opened the island’s first bottle shop and tasting room combo in 2016.
There’s an old German song in which the singer laments that he cannot marry his sweetheart because she wants to honeymoon in Hawai‘i, where there’s no beer.
The song, titled “There is No Beer in Hawai‘i,” was written more than fifty years ago in 1963. Here in 2016, things are substantially better. Hawai‘i Island’s Kona Brewery and Maui’s Maui Brewing Company are distributed nationally, and O‘ahu is closing in on ten craft breweries.
Which makes it hard to believe that just a few years ago in 2013, exactly fifty years after it was written, that song was once again kinda-sorta true – at least on O‘ahu.
Craft Beer Comes and Goes
On August 22, 2013, Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room Co-Owner Tim Golden responded to a comment on his blog, Beer in Hawai‘i. The question pertained to whether or not there were any locally-owned craft breweries selling kegs.
“Right now on O‘ahu,” Golden wrote, “We don’t have any functioning breweries.”
If you’re like me, a casual beer drinker, that answer may have surprised you. But it’s true. Though craft beer had reared its head several times before on O‘ahu – going all the way back to Ali‘i brewing in 1993, for example – 2013 was a dark age of sorts, a transitional time when one wave of brewers was giving way to another.
The lull came after an active period between 2005-12 in which several craft breweries opened and closed, their demise attributed to a variety of factors, some combination of lacking quality and community disinterest.
What’s more perplexing about O‘ahu’s craft beer bust of 2013 is that the local beer scenes on other islands – namely Hawai‘i Island and Maui – had been on their feet for nearly two decades despite smaller populations.
“Hawai‘i is very unique in that there’s 150 miles and an ocean separating Kona from Honolulu, and you can’t drive like you can between San Francisco and L.A.,” Golden said. “For a long time, none of the love for craft beer was spilling over to O‘ahu.”
Beer Blog Begins
After growing up on O‘ahu and graduating from Waialua High School and University of Hawai‘i, Golden spent several years living in Los Angeles. When he returned to the island in October of 2012, he took notice of the floundering beer scene, but also made another realization: There was no centralized source of information for beer on the island.
This realization – no doubt a contributing factor to the aforementioned lack of community interest – inspired Golden to start a blog, which he simply named Beer in Hawai‘i.
“I wanted the information, and no one else was doing it,” a humble Golden said of the blog’s beginnings. A look at the earliest entries confirms this intent. Most are updates about what stores are carrying what beers.
But his friend and now business partner, Village Bottle Shop Co-Owner Daryn Ogino, paints a much more influential picture, one where Golden became the point man for an industry lacking a true spokesman.
“People weren’t talking too much about craft beer in 2012. The scene just wasn’t there yet,” said Ogino. “But then Tim started his blog.”
Locals and visitors began to find Golden’s blog online, as did the local media. Before long, Golden became Hawai‘i’s go-to beer expert, and was contracted for beer columns by the Star-Advertiser and Honolulu Magazine.
Craft Beer Battles Back
Regardless of where you want to dish credit – some to Golden, some to the hard work of local brewers, some to the Hawaiian Gods and Goddesses – craft beer began its present-day resurgence in late 2013.
“The timing was finally right,” Golden said. “The public was more aware, they had gotten a taste [a few years earlier]. The dynamics and demographics of the island had changed. Places like Whole Foods were beginning to sell craft beer from the mainland.”
“It’s like a hurricane,” Golden said of the many contributing factors. “You can’t just have warm water. You need wind and open ocean and hot air.”
Today, O‘ahu is approaching ten craft breweries that range from full-on brewpubs like Honolulu Beer Works in Kaka‘ako to small, garage-door style operations like Stewbum & Stonewall in Kaneohe and Lanikai Brewing Company in Kailua. Home of the Brave Brewing, a “brewseum,” pairs beer with WWII history.
The Power of Suggestion
Golden said the main purpose of the blog, both now and in the past, is to give people options and harness what he calls the “power of suggestion.”
“It’s about what makes you happy,” Golden said. “Beer shouldn’t be polarized.”
The concept for Village Bottle Shop & Tasting Room, opened August 11th in SALT at Our Kaka‘ako, is much the same. In addition to the selection of 500 to-go bottles, the shop has 16 beers on tap. The vision is for customers to try beers on tap and then peruse the fridge for similar ones to take home.
“When customers come in, I want to introduce them to new beers,” said Golden. “Sort of, ‘Well, if you like this, I think you’re going to like this, too.’”
In this way, Golden has a lot of things going for him. His “power of suggestion” theory lends him an open mind, so you can expect genuine, unbiased recommendations.
He’s also got the expertise to back them up. He’s been a homebrewer for a long time, and one year ago, he became a certified cicerone – the beer industry’s equivalent of a wine sommelier.
Golden’s dedication to creating stability and community for an industry that has been historically tepid here on O‘ahu is inspiring. When you meet him at the bottle shop, it’s clear that his stake goes beyond making a living. His mission is admirable: To brew up beer lovers that will support local breweries.
“I stock beers I know will be tough to sell,” Golden said. “Because I want to introduce people to new beer and the only way to do that is to carry creative beers you can’t find anywhere else.”