Garrett Marrero has a good thing going at Maui Brewing Co. We're wild about Maui's Big Swell IPA and the deliciously dessert-appropriate Coconut Porter. Today, we welcome Garrett for a chat about brewing beer in paradise.
Who: Garrett Marrero, Owner, Maui Brewing Co.
Where: Lahaina, Maui, Hawaii
How did you get started in the beer industry, and why did you choose to open a brewery on Maui?
Pretty simple story—I loved good beer. I was an investment consultant in California, and came to Maui on a vacation and fell in love with the spirit of the island. From there it was figuring out how to be here without sacrificing my drive and need to create. Being that there was nothing like Maui Brewing Co. in the state, we saw an opportunity. Growing up, microbrews were always in the house, we weren't a BMC family. So being exposed to good beer early on definitely created my thirst for quality.
What are some of the challenges of brewing in such a remote location?
Shipping. With the fuel prices constantly on the rise, it gets very expensive. Utilities, insurance, labor, and taxes are all substantially higher than anywhere else besides maybe Alaska. Our friends at Alaskan and other great Alaska breweries can echo these same pains.
Is there a homebrewing scene in Hawaii?
Yes, a fairly limited one. We started selling homebrew supplies about a year ago to encourage homebrewing on Maui. We sell just above cost, basically cost plus a small margin to cover the vacuum seal bags and labor to package it all. Homebrewing really gives birth to a lot of the innovation and creativity in craft beer. We want the public to be involved so they can learn about what beer is and what beer can be.
Why did you choose cans instead of bottles?
Several reasons. A big one is that we believe that the can is a better vessel to protect the beverage. It's not that canned beer is automatically better—the bottle, can, or keg, are merely vessels to transport the beverage. A poorly brewed beer is not going to get better by being in any one of those packages. But a can will protect high-quality beers better than a bottle. A can helps to protect a beer from light and oxygen, thereby keeping a beer fresher than in bottles.
We also are able to source cans locally, there is a Ball plant here in Hawaii which produces all of our cans. As we are big supporters of buying local and supporting local labor this is an important factor.
Do you think people still associate cans with cheap mass-produced lager? Or has that changed now that there's so much good craft beer in cans?
It hasn't changed completely yet, but it is starting to. It really is a big effort for us and other canning craft brewers to educate the population. The fact remains that for quite a long time good beer was in bottles and "junk" (mass-produced fizzy yellow) beer was in cans as well as bottles and every other package the large domestics would convince the market they "had to have".
It's a pretty simple educational process, when it comes down to convincing someone its easy. Open a can, pour it in a glass and sample them on the beers. I think for this reason we focus a great deal on tastings as a method of promotion. We don't buy advertising, we let the consumers taste.
Your beers are distributed in Hawaii, California, Oregon, Washington, Idaho, Colorado, Nevada, and Texas, plus Japan, Scotland, and Denmark. Any plans to expand your reach further?
Yes, absolutely. We plan to add two more states this year as well as at least one more international market. The sky is the limit at this point—we are still small relative to the market. We are also working on an east coast hub for distribution, not for brewing, so we can send our beer to a centralized facility and reach out on a limited basis to the east coast markets. We don¹t plan to be enormous but are looking for good distribution coverage in markets that are a good fit for us.
What do you drink when you're not drinking Maui Brewing Co beers? What other breweries do you find inspirational?
Too many to list. I'd say Pizza Port, Allagash, Dogfish, Avery, Oskar Blues, HUB, the Bruery. That's a hard question for anyone in the biz I would think. Suffice it to say I have a great deal of fun in my research!