Picture this: you’re sitting on the beach in Hawaii in your comfy lounge chair. You’ve got Colson Whitehead’s “The Underground Railroad” in hand, your SPF 50 sunblock applied, and your sharpest Oakleys on. What’s missing from this picture? Why, a cold beverage, of course. You need to get a drink in Hawaii, stat!
Only problem is, where do you even start? The hotel bar is always a safe (and, let’s face it, usually lazy) option, but if you’re reading this post, you probably want something that’s a cut above a typical piña colada.
Not that I have anything against piña coladas… oh wait, I do. I’m allergic to pineapple, so that’s never happening. I’m pretty sad about that one. But I digress.
If you want to find a drink in Hawaii that will rock your world, read on to discover some of our favorites.
Kona Brewing Company
74-5612 Pawai Place, Kailua Kona, HI
Hours: Pub open daily from 11:00 AM – 10:00 PM; Growler Shack opens daily at 11:30 AM. Tours of the brewery occur at 10:30 AM and 3:00 PM each day.
Though Sir Campsalot and I were staying in the town of Volcano (no, that’s not a typo) to visit Hawaii Volcanoes National Park, we still wanted to visited Kona despite being on the opposite side of the Big Island. It was a bit ambitious, considering that we only had 2.5 days on the island, but when has that ever stopped us before?
We had one beverage-related destination in mind for Kona: the Kona Brewing Company. Kona Brewing Company introduced their beers to Hawaii in 1995; their flagship brewhouse produces over 12,000 barrels of beer annually.
After the scenic two hour drive from Volcano to Kona, we were ravenously hungry for some grub and a brewski or two. Or three. Oh hell, it was four. (But who’s counting? Nobody looking at that photo, good sir.)
Based on Sir Campsalot’s recommendation, I tried the Longboard Island Lager and the Castaway IPA, which were both delicious. Lucky for me, they’re part of the four beers that are distributed throughout all 50 U.S. states! We also sampled their Lavaman Red Ale, which had notes of caramel, and their Pipeline Porter, which is brewed with Hawaiian Kona coffee.
Kona Brewing Company’s food menu offers suggested beer and food pairings; this helped us to zero in on pizza to go with the IPA and red ale. Both indoor and outdoor seating is available, but be prepared for a wait during peak hours!
Locations vary (We went to the one at 2829 Ala Kalanikaumaka Street #G-149, Koloa, Kauai)
Hours vary (The Koloa location is open daily from 5:30 PM to 9:00 PM)
I was resigned to the fact that I’d just never be able to be able to have a mai tai. I was convinced that mai tais had my arch nemesis — the golden pineapple — in them, and alas, I’d never be able to taste this drink in Hawaii.
However, I was elated to find that Merriman’s Mai Tai lacked the fruit as an ingredient! The version at their Koloa, Kauai location contained Lahaina rum, orgeat, and honey-lilikoi foam. It hit all the right notes without being too cloyingly sweet. (Edit: Hark! A reader notified me that the original recipe for a mai tai DOESN’T have pineapple in it. Mind. Blown.)
Merriman’s locations serve a variety of other creative cocktails, including “You Put the Lime in the Coconut” (Uncle Val’s Gin, Lime-Lemongrass, Cream of Coconut) and the pricey “Porthole” (Bib & Trucker Bourbon, Lemonade, Velvet Falernum, Pink Peppercorn, Lavender, and Kula Strawberry).
The Koloa location, which we visited, brings to mind an Old Hawaii Plantation. There’s a more casual downstairs area, plus a premium bar upstairs with gorgeous views. Walking in and sad that you have to wait to be seated? The Koloa location is located near several shops, which softens the blow.
Pro Tip → The Koloa location had happy hour from 5:30-6:30 PM, so the mai tai cost only $8 instead of the regular price. Other locations have happy hours as well.
1 Crater Rim Drive, Hawaii National Park, HI
Uncle George’s Lounge is open daily, 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
Remember what I said about hotel bars being a lazy option? This joint is an exception to the rule. If you want to get a drink in Hawaii and have an undeniably stunning view to go along with it, then get yourself over to Volcano House pronto.
For our last drink on the Big Island of Hawaii, we stopped at the Volcano House. This is the place to be if you want to gaze at a freakin’ volcano while you imbibe. We headed into the more casual Uncle George’s Lounge (for fine dining, visit The Rim instead) and were treated to hypnotic views of the Kilauea caldera and Halemaumau Crater.
Uncle George’s Lounge serves lighter fare, plus wine, beer, and cocktails. If you need to tear your eyes away from the smoky volcano (but why would you do that?), there’s a large television in the lounge, plus live music on Saturdays and Sundays.
Kauai Beer Company
4265 Rice Street, Lihue, Kauai
Open Tuesday to Saturday, 11:00 AM to 10:00 PM
The Kauai Beer Company felt like a decidedly local, happening spot on the night we went. Granted, it was one of their “Truck Stop Thursdays,” where seating is a free-for-all and you can order food from a different food truck each week.
Still, the vibe was uber casual; Kauai Beer Company’s one of those places where everyone was having a good time (case in point: a young woman brought along a life-sized cardboard cutout of Obama and asked other patrons to pose for hilarious pictures).
Though the craft brewery is on the newer side — it opened in September 2013 — its beers are well developed and full of flavor. Particular standouts we enjoyed included the Go Red or Go Home (5.7% ABV), an American-style amber ale; the Wit (5.91% ABV), a wheat beer with notes of orange zest; and the delightfully hoppy Beer Co IPA (7.6% ABV). We’ll have to return to try the Black Limousine, a dark lager with toffee notes that’s one of their signature brews.
While our time in Hawaii was limited, we learned about other Hawaiian watering holes during our visit. Folks also recommended checking out Maui Brewing Company, Waikiki Brewing Company, House Without A Key, Bar Leather Apron, and Bevy.
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(As usual, all associated costs were paid by me, and all opinions are my own. Most links are included for informational purposes only. There are some affiliate links, and I will earn a tiny percentage of the sale if you purchase through it at no extra cost to you. Thanks for supporting It’s Five O’Clock Here!)