Every week in The Man Who Invented Beer, Adam Cowden talks all things craft beer, American and elsewhere.
Common conviction holds that with greater northerly latitude comes darker, stronger beer. In popular imagination, this spectrum starts with Corona down south of the border, and ends with Russian imperial stouts way up in Sarah Palin’s backyard. While there is some truth to this notion, the truth is that the spectrum is much, much muddier. Russian imperial stouts have been co-opted by American micro-brewers and have all but disappeared from their namesake country. Corona, though still the top-selling beer in Mexico, is increasingly viewed by Mexicans as a “foreigner’s drink,” and is one of the top-selling beers in many equatorial countries (the Nigerians are particularly crazy about it). This week, we’re going to re-inaugurate the parade of seasonal dark beers with a porter from our own southernmost state. Say “aloha” to , a “smooth, dark” beverage all the way from the Aloha State itself.
What’s the story?
Kona Pipeline Porter is an American porter brewed with “freshly roasted 100% Kona coffee grown at Cornwell Estate on Hawaii’s Big Island,” and is “inspired by the curling waves of the Banzai Pipeline on Oahu” (all this from the ). The beer is one of six (well, five if you live in Hawaii) beers from Kona Brewing company, which is headquartered in Kailua-Kona on Hawaii’s Big Island. The company was founded by by father and son team Cameron Healy and Spoon Khalsa and was inspired by the duo’s love of the islands as well as well as their desire to preserve the islands’ natural habitat. Kona Brewing Co. rolled out their first brews — Pacific Golden Ale (later re-named big Wave Golden Ale) and Fire Rock Pale Ale — in February of 1995, and the company now distributes its “liquid Aloha” to 36 US states and 9 foreign countries. Today, Kona Brewing Co. is owned by Craft Brew Alliance, Inc., the 9th-largest beer company in the U.S., which is in turn partially owned by Anheuser-Busch InBev. Yep, those bastards get their hands in everything. In virtue of this “partnership,” Kona is able to brew its beverages in Portland, Oregon, Woodinville, Washington, and Portsmouth, New Hampshire, and has access to Anheuser-Busch InBev’s behemoth distribution network (which is why it is so ubiquitous despite being headquartered in the most remote location on Earth).
Hawaii’s most successful craft brewer has built a reputation not only on the quality of its beer, but also on its commitment to sustainability and preservation. Its Hawaiian brewpubs, which are equally lauded for their liquid AND solid offerings, serve dishes featuring primarily locally grown/raised/caught products. The company also utilizes a solar-powered generator built by , Hawaii’s largest commercial solar-energy contractor, to produce 60% of its power, and works with a sustainability coordinator to ensure that all of its recyclable waste is re-used (some of the grain even makes its way into the pizza dough at the pubs). Its mainland brewing operations are purportedly intended to reduce the environmental costs of shipping, though its hard to imagine that Kona’s alliance Kona Brewing Co. also organizes fundraisers for local environmental and cultural organizations, including the Bishop Museum, Kokua Festival, Sierra Club’s Blue Water Campaign and Surfrider Organization, and provides support for local sporting events that celebrate and preserve Hawaiian culture.
Where can I drink it?
The Kona Brewing Co. offers a on their website, and a quick aerial view of Chicago reveals that Kona Pipeline Porter has pretty thoroughly saturated the Windy City market. Feel free to use the tool yourself if you want to find the closest tap — I’ve already dialed in Chicago for you.
What does it taste like?
Well…like a porter brewed with coffee. A damn good porter, at that.
You’ll immediately notice that Kona Pipeline Porter looks and smells very similar to coffee. As a coffee layperson, I can’t comment very meaningful on whether or not it looks and smells like good coffee, but according to those in the know, Kona is very expensive, good coffee.
The beer pours a dark, dark ruby that is, for all intents and purposes, indistinguishable from jet-black, and is topped by a medium-sized, root beer-colored head that quickly dissipates into a tiny cap of bubbles. The nose is replete with coffee but also with vanilla, roasted malt, and some traces of dark chocolate and dark fruit. As it warms, the beer starts to smell less like a coffee porter and more like a vanilla porter.
The most impressive thing about the taste of Pipeline Porter, IMHO, is that Kona actually manages to position the coffee flavor enjoyably in the mix. I’ve tried several other coffee porters, and have always been turned off by the overwhelmingly acrid raw coffee bean taste that seems to usually dominate the flavor bouquet. Pipeline Porter goes for more of a coffee-with-cream-and-sugar approach, balancing out the coffee bean bitterness with an ample amounts of sweet toasted malt and smoky roasted malt as well some vanilla and suggestions of chocolate. There’s almost no noticeable alcohol content, which adds to the mild, coffee-with-cream (as opposed to piping-hot black coffee) impression. By the time the coffee comes out strong in the finish, it acts as a welcome, pleasant edition rather than an obnoxious guest who has overstayed their welcome. All in all, Kona Pipeline acts more like a porter that emphasizes the coffee tastes inherent in the style than a “coffee porter,” and does so at its own benefit.
Kona Pipeline Porter feels light in the mouth, but substantial enough to remain safely above the watery range. It also is devoid of the chewy-sweetness that often crops up in porters, and this is just as well, because this sort of sickeningly-sweet molasses consistency spells death in the case of many a porter. The beer does, however, seem to gain a bit of viscosity as it warms up. The carbonation is medium and slightly higher than I expected, though it does effectively balance out a body that might otherwise seem a bit light for the style.
Should I try it?
Yes. I was a big fan of Kona Pipeline Porter, and if you at all like dark beer (or coffee), I have a feeling that you will be too.