Looking for the best brew pub to visit while enjoying your vacation on Big Island? Well then, you came to the right spot. In February 2023, I had the opportunity to visit the 4 main breweries on this Hawaiian island, and I'm here now to give you the down and dirty. Also, in case you're wondering, I say 4 "main" breweries because apparently there's a 5th (Paradise Brewing Co.), but they only have one of their own brews on tap, so that doesn't really count in my eyes. I'll also talk about the only winery on the Big Island while I'm here. Let the reviews begin!
Kona Brewing Co
Open 7 days a week, 1000-2100
Address: 74-5612 Pawai Pl, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740
Food? - Yes
Kona Brewing Company is arguably the most famous Hawaiian brewery, but is it the best? In my personal opinion, nah, but it's still pretty good, plus Longboard Island Lager holds a special place in my heart, as it was probably the first craft beer I ever drank. Kona Brewing Company first opened their doors way back in 1994, and they've done very well for themselves since. Their main brewery is located in Kona, but they also have other taprooms open on other Hawaiian islands now as well. I will admit that their main brewery is very impressive- they offer brewery tours, which I did not partake in, but they have tons of indoor and outdoor seating, a bar outside to order drinks at while you wait, lots of "Kona Brewing" embossed nik-naks, and some pretty interesting decor on the inside. They don't take reservations for small parties, and this place definitely gets busy, so be aware of that. They do serve food - their menu was very pizza heavy, but they also serve wings, salads, tacos, etc. I tried their pizza ball appetizer and The Captain pizza, which had pepperoni, ham, sausage, mushrooms, and olives, and I hate to say it, but I was disappointed in the food. The pizza balls were dry and flavorless, and the pizza was greasy and just wasn't the best. But enough about the food, we're here for the beer. The cool thing about going to Kona Brewing is trying all their beers that aren't sold on the mainland, and there were quite a few. I especially enjoyed their Lemongrass Luau, brewed with ginger and lemongrass, as well as their Kua Bay IPA. Not sure what to order? Lucky for you, they offer flights, your choice of 4 beers in 5oz pours. I decided to grab some growlers to-go, and I have to admit, the growler glass bottles was super cute. Would I come back here? Sure, but I'm rating it 3rd out of the 4 breweries on the island, so do with that info what you will.
Ola Brewing Co
Open 1130-2200 M-Th, 1130-2300 Fri-Sat, and 1130-2000 on Sun
Address: 74-5598 Luhia St, Kailua-Kona, HI 96740 & 1177 Kilauea Ave, Hilo, HI 96720
Food? - Yes
"Ola" loosey means "life" in Hawaiian, and I'm going to tell you right now, Ola Brewing Co was my favorite. Now let me explain why. First off, they make everything with local ingredients from Hawaiian Farmers, and I will always support local. Next, their food was spectacular, specifically their burger. I got it on my first night on Big Island, and went back on my last night to get it again. It might be the best burger I've ever had in my life, no joke. They also have flatbreads, sandwiches, salads, and bao buns, as well as random specials occasionally (like local mushroom tacos, for example). The decor and vibe of this place was perfect - they have indoor and outdoor seating, it doesn't seem to get too crowded, and I loved their merch (cool designs and such). From all the posters hanging around, it also appears they host local events, like "learn the Hawaiian language". I didn't get to attend any, but also hella cool. Now, to the beer. Was it the best beer out of the 4 breweries? No, but I would say a close second. Ola offers a rotating variety of over 40 beers, ciders, hard seltzers, and hard teas, and every Thursday, they drop a new limited release brew, so there's always something new on tap. And, if you're not a big beer drinker, this is the perfect brewery for you, with their wide selection of other alcoholic drinks. Unfortunately, they don't offer flights, but they do offer $2 3oz taster glasses, so I just ordered 4 of those and made my own flight. Since I was able to visit here twice, I pretty much tried all of their beers and even some of their hard teas. Their IPAs were delightful, and I would have to say that their Ola IPA was my favorite of their beers, with their Luhia Pale Ale coming in at a close second.
Hilo Brewing Co
Open Tues-Mon 1200-1800
275 E Kawili St, Hilo, HI 96720
Food? - Not usually?
Over on the southern side of the island, in Hilo, we find Hilo Brewing Company. Located outside of downtown and kind of down a random side street, this brewery offers both indoor and outside seating. Unfortunately, there's no food located here, although they may occasionally have hotdogs? Unsure of that, but they do have bags of chips/pretzels behind the bar. When I came here, there were only a few other patrons, so I don't think this place is a huge tourist attraction and probably doesn't get too packed. Their brewmaster has an impressive resume that is showcased in their "About" section on their website, which honestly just makes this brewery even more confusing, since I was thoroughly unimpressed with their beer. Maybe I just have a shitty palate and don't know "good" beer, but that's a pretty far fetched idea in my personal opinion. They only had 8 beers on tap, and one of them was out, so make that 7. They offer 4oz tasters for $2.50, as well as a few cocktails if you're not feeling a beer. I tried most of their beers- they only had 7, so it wasn't too hard. And they do offer a wide variety, including a couple IPAs, plus a golden ale, pale ale, red ale, lager, and porter. I tried their American IPA (Tsunami IPA), their red ale (Volcano Red Ale), their imperial IPA (Kanaloa Imperial IPA), and few others. I ended up getting a pint of the Volcano Red Ale, but honestly, I thought it was pretty average. I'm sorry Hilo Brewing Company, but you guys ranked last on my list. Not only for beer either- but the vibe and decor of the place was really nothing to write home about either.
Big Island Brewhaus
Open 1100-2000 Mon-Sat
64-1066 Hawai'i Belt Rd, Waimea, HI 96743
Food? - Yes
This brewery is located on the north side of the island in Waimea, and although it's slightly out of the way of most touristy things to do on Big Island, that just makes it all the better in my eyes. The brewmaster, Tom, also has an impressive resume laid out on their "About" section of their website, but the main difference between this brewery's "About" section and Hilo Brewing's "About" section, is the sheer number of awards they've won. Do I think they deserved those awards? Absolutely. This place wins number 1 beer on my list, hands down. First though, let's discuss everything else. Big Island Brewhaus offers indoor and shaded outdoor seating. It's pretty cozy, and I could see this place getting busy, especially on Fridays, when they have live music, or Thursdays, when they host open mic night. They offer a full food menu, including tacos, burgers, soups, sandwiches, and daily specials. You can tell that they put just as much love into their food as they do their beer, because it is delectable. Now onto their beers- they offer a wide variety, including stouts, lagers, pales, pilsners, IPAs, you name it. Now, sometimes when I see such a wide variety, I think, "Well, surly specialize in one style, and the other's are probably subpar", but with this brewery, that is simply not true. All of their beers were not only "true to the style", but they were above average in their category, which is truly a feat in my eyes. I got a flight of 5 beers, consisting of their Jabba da Gose, Red Giant, Golden Sabbath, Dark Sabbath, and Grahams Pilsner, and they were all delicous. If you're a true beer lover, this is the one brewery on Big Island that you can't miss.
So there you have it. If I had to put them in order from most liked to last, I would honestly have Big Island Brewhaus and Ola Brewing tied for first, Kona brewing second, and Hilo Brewing last. They each have their own strengths and weaknesses for sure, so why not go to all 4 like I did? Need more suggestions for what to do on Big Island? Check out my other blog post, "Big Island Itinerary"! But don't forget: there's always time for beer. Like I always say - Catch flights, drink flights. Na Zdrowie!